| Modi and Advani at the rally. (PTI)
Ahmedabad, March 20: Speakers at the Swabhimaan rally today said the denial of a US visa to Narendra Modi had united the entire country ' except the Gujarat BJP, they might have added.
At the rally here in protest against the US decision, there were three key absentees: Keshubhai Patel, Suresh Mehta and Kashiram Rana. All three are rivals of Modi and have been fomenting a rebellion from which the Gujarat chief minister has been rescued by the visa refusal.
Such is the demonstration of outrage otherwise in the BJP camp that Lal Krishna Advani equated the decision to the British imposition of salt tax which Mahatma Gandhi protested against with the Dandi March.
Advani said the Swabhimaan rally was just the beginning of a series of protests.
Talking of the Dandi March, one Gandhi ' Rahul ' arrived in Gujarat to take part in the re-enactment of the yatra by the Congress on the 75th anniversary. In Vadodara, he criticised the 'divisive and destructive' policies of some political parties.
But at least on the visa controversy the BJP and the Congress are speaking in one voice, in public. At the rally, Modi thanked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for protesting against the Washington decision.
Advani took the theme of unity further. He said even Modi's detractors were forced to support him on the issue. 'Until now Modi was a symbol of Gujarati pride and self-respect, but now his name has become synonymous with the country's self-respect'.
Another visitor to Gujarat belonging to the opposite political camp, however, saw in the BJP's holding of a rally an effort to draw 'political mileage' out of the incident.
Sharad Pawar asked why the BJP did not think of organising a Swabhimaan rally when George Fernandes was asked to remove his clothes and shoes while being frisked at an airport in the US. Fernandes was then defence minister in the Vajpayee government.
The Nationalist Congress Party leader also referred to a comment he said Atal Bihari Vajpayee had made while visiting the US as Prime Minister. 'What kind of honour did Vajpayee bring to the country when he went there and said 'my head hangs in shame when I think of Gujarat' (the riots).'
Fernandes was one of the speakers at the rally. He said: 'The problem with the United States is that it behaves as the 'emperor of the world' (global cop). So long it has this inflated self-image, it will continue to behave like this. But this time the US has been jolted by denying a visa to Modi. The entire nation is united on this issue.'
Modi targeted his fury at President Bush who, he said, 'has no business to dictate to Gujarat what law we should or should not enact'.
The chief minister said the US was unhappy with him because he passed a law banning religious conversions. The chief minister added that it was time to resolve to make this country so prosperous that some day Americans would line up for an Indian visa.
Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi, who said all US consulates in India should be closed down in retaliation, asked Modi not to visit that country even if he were granted a visa.
Whatever the fate of India's request to reassess the decision, Modi is going to address a New York conference tomorrow organised by friends of the BJP, and not the Asian American Hotel Owners' Association that had invited him.
Life outside India will be difficult for Modi. Two UK-based voluntary organisations are planning protest demonstrations during his proposed visit here to participate in the Vibrant Gujarat celebrations next Saturday.
Awaaz and South Asia Watch announced the decision last night. Welcoming the US decision to deny the visa, Suresh Grover of Awaaz said: 'We need to create the necessary momentum to keep up the international pressure.' When he comes here.'