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Fernandes held the stick BJP wielded on Modi

New Delhi, Sept. 11: BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu was forced to tick off Narendra Modi more because of pressure from the Samata Party and less to “save” Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee from embarrassment when he interacts with Muslims of Gujarati origin during his US trip.

A day after Naidu asked the Gujarat chief minister to refrain from making objectionable remarks, it emerged that defence minister and NDA convenor George Fernandes was reportedly upset on reading reports of Modi describing the relief camps as “baby-manufacturing factories”. During his Gaurav Yatra, Modi had also asked Muslims to stop “breeding” in large numbers.

Sources in the NDA said Fernandes instructed one of his close associates to call up Naidu and urge him to tell Modi to put an end to his offensive comments. The BJP chief was also warned that if he did not “act”, the Samata would be forced to react publicly.

The party, however, is unfazed by Modi reportedly referring to Congress president Sonia Gandhi as a “gor chamadi walli (that fair-skinned woman)”. “That bit doesn’t concern us, but when he starts abusing the minorities we refuse to keep quiet,” said sources close to Fernandes.

The Congress today demanded criminal prosecution of Modi for his hate campaign against the minorities. “He is continuing with his hate campaign of minorities which has no place in the civilised society. He has a single point agenda to create social conflict. He should be prosecuted under criminal law of the land,” party spokesperson Anand Sharma said.

Accusing Modi of dividing people on communal lines to get political mileage in the next Assembly polls, he said deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani was answerable whether his government respects the law or supports “a violator of the Constitution”.

“Silence on Advani’s part would be a confirmation that what has happened in Gujarat, or whatever Modi is doing, is in accordance with the central leadership” of the party, he said.

Avoiding a direct reply on whether the party would file a criminal case against Modi for his minority bashing, Sharma said as long as the communal threat persists, the party would continue to raise its voice against such forces to “expose them and confront them”.

The Samata, too, plans to closely monitor the chief minister’s speeches to check if its intervention had chastened him.

BJP sources, however, claim that going by the “excellent” response Modi got in the first leg of his campaign, it seemed unlikely he would pipe down. “The English-speaking media has been after Modi’s life after the Godhra incident. He has realised it is futile to take them on directly. So his strategy is to reach out to people directly and answer the charges hurtled on him by the English-speaking press,” said a party functionary.

According to the BJP, the “elitist” media did not influence the people of Gujarat, whose responses have been shaped by the views of the regional media. “That (local) media reflects the feelings on the ground and is closer to what people think. They are in a sense supportive of the chief minister,” said sources.

For the record, BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley continued to defend Modi to the hilt. “I have also tried to ascertain facts (about Modi’s controversial speeches) and seen the statements of our Gujarat leaders who were present in the meetings. There are inaccuracies in some of the press reports,” he said. He remarked that the “inaccuracies” might have crept in because it was “not possible” for a correspondent to catch up with the yatra — travelling at break-neck speed — and cover every meeting Modi addressed. Jaitley also insisted that the statement on “population explosion” were not made in the context of Muslims.

The BJP spokesperson said if the National Commission of Minorities wished to see the videotapes of the yatra and verify Modi’s remarks, the Gujarat government would have them sent. The commission has asked the government for a full text of Modi’s speech.

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