The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pandya death huddle stirs trouble for Modi

Ahmedabad, March 31: Haren Pandya’s death has revived the spectre of dissidence in Gujarat BJP against chief minister Narendra Modi and sent Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders scurrying for more security fearing a Godhra-riot backlash.

Within 48 hours after Pandya’s murder, 30-odd dissident MLAs, mostly former chief minister Keshubhai Patel’s supporters, met secretly twice. The meetings, said a senior leader, were an indication of the “popular mood in the party which might turn into an anti-Modi wave’’.

The rebel MLAs met on the pretext of paying homage to the slain leader. Instead, they discussed their security concerns, the party high command’s failure to listen to their grievances and the state leadership’s refusal to pay heed to their representation.

Shaken by the murder, the MLAs from the state’s north, south and Saurashtra regions brought up Pandya’s banishment into oblivion by Modi. At least three former ministers and an incumbent minister were present at the meetings, sources said.

Pandya had earned Modi’s displeasure over comments to the media on the Godhra riots, provoking the chief minister into denying him a renomination from Ellisbridge constituency. Pandya had won the seat three times.

Modi had even defied the party high command to put his foot down on denying Pandya a poll ticket. At the rebel meetings, the MLAs criticised Modi for his “vindictive attitude’’.

If Modi’s unassailable position in the party has now been breached, Sangh parivar leaders are feeling equally “vulnerable” after Pandya’s assassination.

Several VHP leaders feel particularly threatened because of their “questionable role” in the post-Godhra riots. Some of them were even named in the FIRs lodged by riot victims. One such leader, the VHP’s Jaideep Patel, was attacked for his alleged role in inciting riots.

VHP international general secretary Praveen Togadia — the only other Gujarat leader apart from Modi enjoying Z-plus security — met the chief minister and home minister Amit Shah, seeking adequate cover for “vulnerable” leaders and more security across the state.

“Mafia and terrorist elements are out to disturb the peace,” Togadia reportedly said.

VHP state general secretary Dilip Trivedi said: “We have requested the government to provide security to all those who could be targeted by jihadi elements.” “So far, Jaideep Patel is the only VHP state leader who has been provided security as none of us has received any threat,’’ he said.

Modi, unsettled by the rebels’ renewed activism, has launched a damage-control exercise. He has directed ministers, in charge of certain districts assigned to them, to attend to the grievances of BJP MLAs from their region.

Modi has also initiated a process to assess the threat perception to Sangh leaders.

Gujarat BJP chief Rajendra Sinh Rana welcomed the move because he had asked the state to provide security to any leader who felt threatened.

The Congress, however, took a dig at the exercise. Party spokesman Hasmukh Patel said: “The Congress leaders do not require security cover as we do not indulge in any activity that invites hostility.’’

The chief minister’s attempts to pacify rebels follows not only their meetings, but also the palpable resentment of party workers when they raised slogans against him outside VS Hospital where Pandya was rushed after the attack.

Even deputy prime minister L.K. Advani and BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu, who were present, had sensed the anger.

Modi’s emphatic Assembly poll victory last year had muffled all rebel murmur though many of his men disapproved of his “autocratic style of functioning”.

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