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Murmurs in BJP on Modi’s Bhopal ‘cost’

New Delhi, Dec. 5: An influential lobby in the BJP has begun a whisper campaign that Narendra Modi will be costing the party “30 to 35” of Madhya Pradesh’s 230 seats when votes are counted on Monday.

These seats have a sizeable Muslim population, said a source close to a leader who is still to reconcile with Modi’s ascendancy as the party’s prime ministerial candidate.

Modi’s presence in the campaign, the source said, had consolidated Muslim votes in the Congress’s favour without achieving a reverse polarisation of Hindus towards the BJP.

In 2008, when chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Modi were on a par in the BJP echelons, “several” Muslims had voted for Chouhan, the source claimed.

But their “goodwill”, he added, had dissipated by the time Lok Sabha polls were held in 2009 because of Modi’s appearance in the national campaign and Varun Gandhi’s tirade against Muslims in western Uttar Pradesh.

The source claimed that Chouhan, who is eyeing a third term, was aware of the “damage” Modi had caused but was “helpless”.

“There were orders from the RSS brass to maximise Modi’s campaign presence in these elections,” the source said.

A Chouhan aide denied the insinuation. “It has come to our notice that this sort of talk is in circulation. There are central leaders trying to campaign against Modi by firing from Chouhan’s shoulders,” he said.

“Let me emphatically state that Chouhan has nothing to do with such designs.”

The aide said Chouhan and other state BJP leaders had asked Modi to extend his Madhya Pradesh stopovers, following which he addressed a dozen extra meetings.

“It is extremely unfair to run down someone like Modi who has worked so hard in these elections,” he said.

Madhya Pradesh BJP sources said Muslims accounted for more than 20 per cent of the voters in only about 10 seats, mostly in Bhopal, Satna, Rewa and Indore. They added that it was a “myth” that Muslims had voted for Chouhan in the last elections.

“We never got their votes. But that did not stop the chief minister from reaching out to the community and assuring them that their welfare was close to his heart,” a state leader said.

“If we lose seats this time, it won’t be because of Muslims. It will be because of anti-incumbency against our ministers and MLAs. We replaced nearly 50 of them; we should have dumped another 50.”

TwoCircles.net, a portal that focuses on issues concerning Muslims and the marginalised sections, says Muslims make up just 6.4 per cent of Madhya Pradesh’s population according to the 2001 census, about three per cent less than the community’s presence in Gujarat.

The website says Muslims can tip the scales at best in a dozen Assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh, and that even the Congress had ignored the minority quotient and fielded just five Muslim candidates this time. The BJP fielded none.

Madhya Pradesh is not the only state offering a test for the “Modi effect” in this round of elections.

Modi’s intra-party critics allege that the “good showing” in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh owes to the leadership of Vasundhara Raje and Raman Singh.

Rajasthan BJP sources said Vasundhara was initially against a campaign blitz by Modi for fear of alienating the Muslims. She changed her mind seeing the response he received at a workers’ rally in Jaipur in September, days before he was declared the prime ministerial candidate.

Towards the end of electioneering in Rajasthan, Vasundhara and other state BJP leaders urged Modi to spare an additional two days for the state.

Delhi is the only state where the BJP’s verdict on Modi the campaigner has been unambiguous.

“His campaign gave us the push we badly needed to pit ourselves as the Congress’s main opponent. The Opposition space was initially reclaimed by the Aam Aadmi Party; we were getting edged out,” a source said.