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Modi Mandela mission raises heat & dust

Ahmedabad, July 30: An attempt by Narendra Modi to rope in Nelson Mandela for Gandhi Jayanti celebrations in Porbandar has evoked sharp reactions from Gandhians and Congress leaders.

The chief minister has invited the former South African president to be the chief guest at the October 2 event.

Mandela has reportedly accepted the invitation to come to Gandhi’s birthplace, which he could not visit when he toured India as president, but this has not been confirmed.

The Gujarat government is tightlipped about Mandela’s visit, but sources at the state Khadi Gram Udyog board said the South African leader would attend the function.

However, state protocol secretary George Joseph refused to confirm if Mandela had accepted the invitation, saying: “I’m not dealing with this.” He said he was not aware that an invitation had been sent.

Senior Congress leader Bharat Solanki said: “Mandela is welcome (here) but he should not share the dais with Modi and give legitimacy to his brand of communal politics.’’

He said Mandela must be aware that Modi was the architect of last year’s communal violence in the state. Solanki added that the Congress would send thousands of e-mails and letters asking the veteran leader “not to accept Modi’s hospitality”.

Noted Gandhian Chhunibhai Vaidya, who has been invited for the function, said Mandela should accept the invitation on the condition that he would denounce “Modi’s brand of Hindutva’’. “He (Mandela) should say whatever happened in Gujarat is condemnable. If he is ready to denounce the pogrom I’m ready to attend the function. But as of now, I have not made up my mind,” the octogenarian said.

Vaidya intends to write to Mandela about this and will also inform the South African embassy in India.

Having received corporate sponsorship, the government has organised Navratri festivities at a scale Gujarat has never seen before. About 300,000 non-resident Gujaratis have been invited for Navratri, which will conclude on October 2.

The Navratri festivities and the invitation to Mandela are an attempt by Modi to boost his image that has taken a beating post-Godhra.

Critics say the chief minister wants to prove that the riots have not scared away foreign investors and NRIs.

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