The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Beti or behn, Modi sells a one-point message

Modera, Patan District, North Gujarat, Dec. 10: The dust whipped up by the chopper’s blades takes a long time to settle down in the dryness of north Gujarat.

Narendra Modi, saffron scarf round the neck, off-white half-sleeved kurta, tight white churidars and proprietor of a leading media house in tow, swaggers through the cloud, clambers into a black Hyundai Accent and is escorted to the ground. He will deliver a speech in Gujarati with subtle changes in the script; actually, the changes are in the vocabulary.

Modi will refer to the Congress president as “Soniabehn” but the acid in his voice will be undiluted. Somewhere between the last week and today, a couple of hours before electioneering ends, Modi has shown a feel for words. From “Italy ki beti” (daughter of Italy) to “Madaaam” (with the drawl) to “Soniabehn”, it has been a comedown for the audience that wants Modispeak. If it is an indicator, too, of the Congress’ clawing back into an election where it was down to begin with, Modi does not give any further hint that such claims should be taken for real.

Narendra Modi will snigger at the very suggestion. Indeed, it can provoke him to revert to “Italy ki beti” all over again. But who is to pop the question to him' In these elections, Modi speaks.

Others listen. Then decide what to do.

Few elections in recent times have centred so much around the personality of one individual. Last night, at the Kankariya Football Ground in Ahmedabad, where he shared the dais with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mayavati, the crowd began thinning after he was through. The Prime Minister is supposed to be the star — by default — and he speaks at the end. The cutouts around the ground were of a beaming Modi embossed on a saffron lotus. Not of Vajpayee.

He spoke in Hindi, as he does usually, and called his principal adversary “Madaaam”.

This afternoon, none dares steal his thunder, even by default.

Modi grabs the microphone the minute he is on stage in the Aditya Vidyalaya ground. He is impatient with the formalities: a garland of white and red roses from the taluka BJP chief, another from the block youth BJP leader. He condescends to bow and accept a memento from a little girl and then thumps a BJP worker, who bends to touch his feet, like an old “yaar”. Then there is nothing between him and the microphone except hot air in warm winter.

“Modera is ancient land. I have been here to pay homage to Modeshwari Devi. But my family now comprises 5 crore Gujaratis. I cannot come here enough.” Simple formalities, cheers, direct affinity, representation claimed.

Rapport established, Modi gets to the meat. “This election will decide if 5 crore Gujaratis will live in peace. If the BJP wins, the whole of Hindustan will light crackers. If not, Miya Musharraf’s Pakistan will. You decide who is to celebrate.”

It is less than three hours before electioneering officially ends.

From here, Modi will fly to Patan, to campaign for old friend, confidante and leader of the BJP women’s wing, Anandiben Patel. This is the Chanasma constituency. The BJP won the seat in 1998. This time, the ticket has not gone to the sitting MLA, Arvind Patel, but to Tribhuvan Patel. Modi will seek votes for him only in passing.

This is a vote, he says, for the idea, his idea, of Gujarat. And, first, he must get all those who question it out of the way.

“What is the Congress in Gujarat today' It is the Muslim League in disguise. Supported by Pakistan and the ISI. Last week, on the day of Id — a day for brotherhood — Congress leaders like Ahmad Patel went to mosques to seek votes. (The local Sandesh newspaper reported this, he says). He (Ahmad Patel) is saying Muslims will vote Congress to victory. Congress leaders went to mosques and gave them money. A fatwa has been issued. Don’t forget, a ‘fatwa’, to seek ‘revenge’, to destroy democracy. But as long as Modi is here, who can take revenge on 5 crore Gujaratis'”

Since yesterday, the Sangh parivar’s campaign has reached a shrill pitch. Since the “fatwa” by Ulemas on Id day, it has been deliberate strategy to whip up a counter-backlash. (“Counter’ because the Muslim support to the Congress against the atrocities in the pogrom is interpreted as ‘backlash’ against the state government. This is also the phrase used by BJP leaders at the headquarters in Ahmedabad while discussing campaign strategy).

“That is why, they want Modi out,” ‘Narendrabhai’ thunders. “For the citizen, there is only one ‘fatwa’ — the Constitution. That is why I say the Congress here has become the Muslim League.”

Modi does not raise the pitch of his even baritone. He raises both fists in a show of defiance. The afternoon sun glints off his wristwatch.

“Soniabehn had come to Mehsana,” the crowd is in titters. Mehsana is just 20 km east of here. There are some 5,500-6,000 people in the crowd, the police officer in charge estimates, and many them are from the town.

“She wants to introduce ‘metre’ (metering for power and water usage — sensitive subject among farmers) here and ‘litre’ in south Gujarat. (Here, ‘litre’ is slang for a pouch of hooch. Prohibition is in force in Gujarat).”

“She sent 12 chief ministers to Gujarat to get rid of just one. Why'” Modi revels in playing the rebel, the underdog, one against many. “But there are starvation deaths in Madhya Pradesh (a reference to chief minister Digvijay Singh) and in Karnataka, Veerappan goes scot free, killing people at will (a reference to S.M. Krishna, Karnataka chief minister). The hand (symbol) of the Congress is the hand with which you will beat your chest in agony.”

Gujarat, Modi says, has seen more development in 45 months under the BJP than in 45 years under the Congress. He promises prosperity. But that can come only under certain conditions.

“They do not want me to talk of Godhra. I am the chief minister here. They should have put me on the dock, asked questions on why Godhra happened. But they have struck a deal with the perpetrators of the crime. Look at Kashmir. Within weeks, they have started setting militants free.”

Modi is back where he was. In the audience, district youth BJP leader Vinayshri Jhala whispers in anticipation: “Hindutva is a matter of the heart.”

On the dais, Modi’s voice quivers. “I have been to Godhra. I have seen the bodies, the shrunken, charred, shrivelled bodies of the women and children and boys. I cannot forget Godhra. For me, Godhra is not an election issue. It is an issue that concerns humanity. I swear to you that the criminals of Godhra will not go unpunished. How the women, children and men must have shrieked when they were being burnt! Can man be so evil' And I am asked to forget Godhra! How can I!”

In the audience, the women sit in the front rows. Each is listening. Intently.

“So, remember,” Modi carries on, “on the 12th day of the 12th month before 12 noon, you must all vote, 100 per cent. Remember the fatwa.” Modi is rounding off.

“But there are many weddings on the 12th. But first, matdaan (cast your vote) and then kanyadaan (give your daughter away in marriage). And to my sisters I say, first matdaan, and then jalpaan (breakfast)”.

At the Ahmedabad BJP headquarters, Yamal Vyas says the party wants a massive turnout in north and central Gujarat.The riot-zone, as it were, where polarisation is most visible. The BJP reckons that the larger the turnout of Hindus for the elections, the better its chances of winning.

Modi has not finished as yet.

“I promise you that if you are alert on the 12th, I will be alert for five years. It is all right to have a car, a house, jewellery and prosperity but what if your son does not return home safe in the evening'”

Speech over, Modi briskly leaves the dais, takes the car, boards the chopper and flies to Patan.

In the dispersing crowd, Urmila Premji, with the youth BJP president from Patan taluk, Girish Goswami, and another BJP worker, Gulabrai Tekchandani, a footwear store owner from Mehsana, say “Modi is our heetrakshak” (guardian or protector).

“You should have been here on the 10th of last month,” says Goswami. “He had a meeting here during the Gaurav Yatra and there were 10,000 people.” The police officer in charge had said there were 5,500-6,000 this afternoon.

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