The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Like win, like swearing-in

Ahmedabad, Dec. 18: Preparations are on in full swing to organise an impressive swearing-in ceremony for Narendra Modi that will match, as state BJP chief Rajendrasinh Rana put it, “our spectacular victory”.

In a break from tradition, the BJP has decided to hold the function at the Sardar Patel stadium in Ahmedabad, instead of Gandhinagar, on December 22, when Governor S.S. Bhandari has invited Modi to form the government. Rana today formally staked claim and told the Governor that Modi had been elected chief of the BJP legislature party.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and several senior BJP leaders are expected to attend. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been invited, but the PMO is yet to give the green signal, Rana said, pointing out “some unforeseen protocol hassle”.

On October 7 last year, Modi had taken the oath of office at Gandhinagar’s helipad in a lavish show. The Congress had boycotted the function, criticising Modi of misusing funds at a time when the state was yet to recover from the devastating earthquake. This time round, party sources promised it would be a much bigger show.

The sources said the stadium was chosen as the venue for security reasons — the crowd will be screened at all the gates as was done during the one-dayer against the West Indies — but the state party chief claimed it was for convenience. Modi, the sources said, wants a large number of partymen from Maninagar, his constituency, to attend the function.

The party is so enthused by the landslide victory that efforts are on to bring in workers from neighbouring states that will go to the polls next year “to draw inspiration from this spectacular victory”.

But the timing and venue of the oath-taking ceremony has left some leaders jittery. They point out that the function is being held during Kamurta, a period between December 16 and January 15 that is considered so inauspicious in Gujarat that even marriages are not solemnised.

Moreover, Modi’s predecessor Keshubhai Patel was installed amid fanfare at the same stadium in 1995, only to be dislodged after Shankersinh Vaghela’s rebellion.

But ‘Chhote Sardar’, who is on the ascendancy, is unlikely to lose any sleep. Having emerged as the supreme leader in Gujarat, he has little to fear from his colleagues and no need to appease them. Last year, he had to accommodate several factions. This time, he has no such compulsion.

He has hinted that the new Cabinet could be smaller than the outgoing 39-member body. Apart from VHP leader Praveen Togadia, the brain behind his aggressive campaign, no one, not even the party’s central leadership, is expected to have much say in government formation. Of course, Modi might seek the approval of the high command to keep them in good humour.

Modi will decide everything in his fief, one that he has defended single-handedly. The central leadership clearly admits it. “It was a vote for Modi. The people of Gujarat had already elected (re-elected) their chief minister,” BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu had said in Gandhinagar town hall after Modi was elected leader of the legislature party.

While Patel has been reduced to a nobody in state politics, the defeat of about 10 senior ministers has made the task of choosing ministers easy for Modi. Suresh Mehta, the No. 2 in his outgoing Cabinet, has lost. So have several bigwigs, like agriculture minister Purushottam Rupala and finance minister Nitin Patel.

Some of the names likely to figure in the Cabinet are: Ashok Bhatt (health minister) Anandiben Patel (education minister), Amit Shah, one of the brains behind the Gaurav Yatra and Haresh Bhatt, former Bajrang Dal leader who won from Godhra.

Formation of the new government is not a challenge for Modi. His challenge will be to ensure that there are no disturbances in the state — the only way he can improve his image, prove his critics’ fears wrong and win the confidence of the minority community.

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