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Makeover Modi goes the extra mile

Ahmedabad, Dec. 25: Narendra Modi today walked the extra mile to greet perceived parivar opponents and party rivals at his swearing-in, carrying on with his two-day-old image makeover efforts.

At the Sardar Patel Stadium packed with 60,000 people, Modi greeted a Vishwa Hindu Parishad monk he had specially invited. Mahant Avichal Das had criss-crossed central Gujarat during the poll campaign, exhorting voters to oust the chief minister.

Modi then hugged his biggest party rival, BJP president Rajnath Singh, and not-so-good-friend Murli Manohar Joshi.

After the oath-taking and a victory lap, the chief minister left without a speech or a verbal crack at anyone.

Within hours of the poll results, Modi had changed his slogan from Gujarati asmita (pride) to “politeness and judiciousness”, and said “winning hearts” was the most important thing now.

The 57-year-old chief minister, who has realised he must project a conciliatory face if he is to achieve his national ambitions, seemed keen to bury the reputation for arrogance that had turned large sections of the Sangh parivar against him.

As at previous swearing-ins, he had invited an army of sadhus though his relations with many of them bore the strains of his estrangement from the VHP. He touched the feet of several of the monks immediately after his arrival at 1.30pm and sought their blessings.

He then stepped across to the VIP enclosure where L.K. Advani and other party colleagues sat and embraced Joshi and Rajnath before taking oath as chief minister for the third time.

Among the allies, National Democratic Alliance convener George Fernandes, his Janata Dal (United) colleague Jaya Jaitly and Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi were present.

Modi had sent the invite to Avichal Das and the other sadhus immediately after the poll victory. Das congratulated the chief minister in a friendly way and Modi returned the favour, saying he would need the monk’s blessings.

Das and his kind may not find it too difficult to mend their relationship with Modi, since the chief minister has held firm to what is really important to them: Hindutva.

Modi’s attempts at an image change seemed to impress Paru Jaykrishna, the president of the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a staunch fan.

“As an industry representative, it feels good that the chief minister has humbly accepted the great and historic victory,” Jaykrishna said.

“For the last two days, after his victory, we have been seeing a new Modi who has not spoken a single negative word although he has emerged stronger. It is a really good sign.”

Wearing his favourite brown kurta and a saffron shawl, Modi took the oath in Gujarati and in the name of God as supporters cheered, shouted slogans and waved saffron flags. He was the only minister sworn in but is expected to announce his cabinet in a day or two.

After the 10-minute ceremony, which coincided with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birthday, Modi mounted an open jeep with Advani, Rajnath, the party’s Gujarat minder, .M. Mathur, and state unit chief Purshottam Rupala. They did a lap of the stadium as supporters burst crackers.

The BJP turned out for the event in strength, with former Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Arun Jaitley and Sushil Kumar Modi seated in the enclosure with chief ministers Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh and B.C. Khanduri.

Among the others present were star campaigners former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, TV actress Smriti Irani and actor Mukesh Khanna.

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