| A woman holds a placard during a protest against Modi’s visit to the city. (AFP)
Mumbai, Jan. 12: Narendra Modi, the BJP’s “lotus king” who stopped short of anointing himself the party’s undisputed election mascot, today said he would campaign “extensively and intently” for all polls in all states.
The Gujarat chief minister drew up a role for himself that far exceeds his state’s borders at a rally in Shivaji Park here.
He said 14 Congress chief ministers pitted their combined might against him in the Gujarat polls. “It’s a different matter that their concerted efforts were roundly nullified.”
“Unka haal chaal poochne hum jald hi aa rahe hain (I will soon visit them — the Congress chief ministers — to enquire about their health),” Modi said.
Modi’s rally has added to the Congress-led Democratic Front government’s woes because half the Congress is said to be busy plotting chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s downfall.
A senior Congress leader, who is a Deshmukh supporter, said his party is breaking itself into pieces while the BJP is scripting an election agenda and preparing for the 2004 Lok Sabha polls. “At a time when we should all sit down and plan to fight the BJP, we are occupied in pulling each other down,” he said.
If Deshmukh was to be removed as chief minister now, the move would send the wrong signal to Congressmen and the people alike, he said.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi has summoned Deshmukh, state unit chief Govindrao Adik and other senior state leaders to New Delhi to sort out the infighting.
But talk about Deshmukh stepping down for a “stronger and more acceptable” leader is gaining ground.
Modi spoke from a designer dais after alighting from a hydraulically-propelled lotus created by Bollywood art director Nitin Desai.
He used the opportunity to lash out at the “confused and directionless Congress”. The party, Modi claimed, “grovelled on its knees and touched my feet, frantically appealing to me not to rake up the Godhra incident. What is it that they want to hide”'
“Democracy has no space for such negativism,” Modi said. “When they should be asking me why Godhra happened, why the state intelligence failed and why the administration could do nothing to stop the carnage, they were instead asking me to gloss over the entire incident.
“What kind of a party is this' What role did they have in the incident' They must explain,” he said.
The Gujarat chief minister kept harping on Godhra and alleged that some of the accused were now getting chicken biryani from a five-star hotel in jail. Where is the largesse coming from, he asked and demanded an explanation from the Congress.
Modi took a dig at “Italy ki beti” when he said: “What can you expect of her' When we were talking about taking out the Jagannath yatra and Congressmen were demanding that it be cancelled, she asked ‘But whose party does Jagannath belong to'’ Ab kya batayein (Now, what do I say to that').”
Modi threw a challenge at Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav, who had famously said in Gujarat during the campaign that he would arrest Modi if he ever set foot in Patna.
“I will visit Patna at Laloo’s convenience. He can then do what he wants with me,” Modi said.
Senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde, sensing the mood of the large crowd, said the Gujarat pattern would be followed in Maharashtra. As Munde explained what this meant, Modi smiled.
He appeared to know for he has apparently been given to understand that Maharashtra and all poll-bound states would largely depend on him to replicate the “Gujarat pattern”.