Modi touches Advani’s feet. Picture by Saeed Faruqui
Bhopal, Sept. 25: The blazing sun must be to blame.
First it crushed the ice that appeared to have withstood the warmth of genuflection and then it provoked a group to heckle speaker after speaker, though not all.
Narendra Modi, the BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister, lunged to touch the feet of L.K. Advani, the former deputy Prime Minister, when they came together today for a public meeting for the first time since the anointment that the patriarch had refused to solemnise.
Modi’s gesture came within seconds of Advani offering him a bouquet at the venue of the BJP rally in Bhopal. Advani, rarely found lacking in displaying emotion, appeared impassive and some camera angles caught him looking the other way.
Unmindful of what looked like a glacial response to his act of courtesy, Modi launched into a 40-minute speech that made the five-lakh-strong audience forget the punishing humidity. Never failing to read the pulse of his spectators, Modi steered clear of the “Gujarat model” and did not forget to praise the BJP’s local poster boy, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
A one-liner that struck a chord was “the Congress will not fight the next Lok Sabha elections but will field the CBI”.
By the time the BJP’s “Karyakarta Mahakumbh” came to an end, Modi and Advani were standing side by side, holding hands and eventually raising them to show solidarity.
Advani told the BJP workers that he was “honoured to be sharing the dais with Narendrabhai”.
Advani complimented Modi, Chouhan and Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh for fulfilling the dreams of Jan Sangh ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyay whose birth anniversary fell today.
Just as Advani prepared the ground to showcase the BJP’s achievements, a motley crowd facing television cameras began heckling him and chanted “Modi, Modi”.
Heads turned, though the object of their admiration stayed stoic. Chouhan squirmed.
The Madhya Pradesh chief minister threw disapproving glances at BJP chief Narender Singh Tomar. Before either could intervene, Advani ended his speech abruptly.
It became a pattern of sorts. All speakers except Sushma Swaraj and Modi were heckled. BJP stalwarts such as Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Ananth Kumar, Venkaiah Naidu, Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley were subjected to mild hooting.
Patience wearing thin, Chouhan took the mike and delivered a brief but firm admonishment. Chouhan told the workers to be respectful towards all speakers. “I can understand your enthusiasm but please restrict yourself to either clapping or raising established slogans of the party,” the chief minister added, rolling up his sleeves.
Two factors went in Sushma’s favour. One, her speech was short and crisp, unlike that of some of the others. Two, she represents Madhya Pradesh’s Vidisha constituency in the Lok Sabha and enjoys local support.
Throughout the three-hour meeting, chief minister Chouhan seemed anxious to keep both Modi and Advani in good humour. When the day’s proceedings began, Chouhan was seen engrossed in conversation with Advani while Rajnath Singh gave company to Modi.
The state BJP leadership also thought up “inclusive” labels that sought to please all. State party chief Tomar clubbed the party icons in pairs, describing Advani-Atal as mentors, Swaraj-Jaitley as parliamentary leaders and Venkaiah-Ananth as organisation men.
On the delicate issue of “Modi-Chouhan”, Tomar said they ran their states in “an exemplary manner”. Speculation was rife that Chouhan wanted Modi’s anointment to be deferred until after the state polls later this year but the Madhya Pradesh chief minister had denied such suggestions.
However, some other speakers were not as diplomatic as Chouhan. A few described Chouhan as “jan nayak (people’s hero)” and Modi as “rashtriya nayak (national hero)”.
Among the crowd, opinion was divided between Modi and Chouhan till the Gujarat chief minister spoke.
At one point, Ganesh Sitara, a BJP supporter from Shajapur, charged towards a younger group that resumed the “Modi-Modi” chant when Chouhan was speaking.
Asked later if a section of the crowd was “misbehaving” with Chouhan, Sitara said: “No, no. Modiji is for Prime Minister while Chouhanji is for chief minister. These youngsters do not understand that without bagging the post of chief minister, the BJP would not gain power in Delhi.”
No visible group of burqa-clad people was seen at the venue. A controversy had erupted yesterday when Congress leader Digvijaya Singh had claimed that the BJP had given an order for 10,000 burqas for the event.