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A set fit for lotus king

Mumbai, Jan. 10: Exactly a month after Narendra Modi steered the BJP back to power in Gujarat, its Maharashtra unit is bending over backwards to welcome Hindutva’s newest “hriday samrat” in the hope of a similar miracle.

BJP insiders say never before has a ceremony been planned on such a scale to felicitate a leader. “The preparations for Modi’s rally on January 12 have been made on an unprecedented scale,’’ a senior leader said.

“Everybody now knows the importance of Modi, he is bigger than everyone else, even the….’’

To design Modi’s manch, the BJP has roped in one of Bollywood’s biggest art directors. Nitin Desai — the man behind the sets of Devdas and Lagaan — has planned a huge, hydraulically propelled lotus that will “first take Modi in and then lift him to the stage, opening up and letting him out just as he reaches the dais’’.

BJP workers have fanned out to all corners of Mumbai and positioned themselves at railway stations to exhort people to attend the rally at Shivaji Park, so far known as the Shiv Sena’s “playground”.

Buoyant BJP leaders have made it clear that it will first be Narendrabhai’s show, and then the party’s. But they are yet to invite Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who has been sending feelers that he will attend the rally if invited.

There are few in the Sena who are happy with the newly acquired cockiness of the BJP, its ally in Maharashtra. There is already talk that the BJP will not settle for a 117-171 seat share formula for the 2004 elections.

The rally “will be something to watch out for”, party leaders say. The BJP is expecting a turnout of about two lakhs; there are banners and posters all over, saying “Greet Narendra Modi to defeat the Musharraf mentality’’.

Over a dozen “raths” are doing the rounds, announcing “the great man’s rally”.

The BJP’s Mumbai chief, Vinod Tawde, says the party is looking to Modi to “infuse cadre with a new energy” and will invite him to Maharashtra often to target the large Gujarati population. The rally will mark the start of an intensive campaign for the 2004 polls.

Excited party members are readying a 3-km banner to present to Modi when he lands here. The only sore thumb so far has been advocate Alka Qureshi, who jumped the queue as thousands lined up to sign the banner, snatched a pen and scribbled: “Mr Modi, we don’t need you here. One Gujarat is enough”.

Red-faced BJP supporters scratched out “don’t” from the first line and added “not” to the second. It now reads: “Mr Modi we need you. One Gujarat is not enough”.

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