Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren at the inauguration of a power grid in Ranchi, where Soren was booed.
Modi at the foundation stone laying ceremony of Nagpur Metro rail, which was skipped by Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan. (PTI)
Aug. 21: The Congress today attacked the Prime Minister over the repeated booing of non-BJP chief ministers sharing a dais with him, a trend that prompted a twice-bitten Prithviraj Chavan to duck out of a public event with Narendra Modi today.
Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma accused Modi of instigating the crowds, warning him to stop the “orchestrated hooliganism” that he said would weaken the country’s federal structure and damage its democratic traditions.
Maharashtra chief minister Chavan, heckled by BJP supporters last Saturday at public events in Solapur and Raigad that he attended alongside Modi, skipped a similar function in Sangh headquarters Nagpur today.
State administration sources said Chavan took the decision after learning how Hemant Soren, Jharkhand chief minister from Congress ally JMM, had been jeered at in Ranchi earlier in the day at a programme held for the Prime Minister.
“I have taken the decision on the basis of a previous visit by the Prime Minister (on Saturday),” Chavan said. “Yesterday, Hooda took a similar decision.”
Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Haryana’s Congress chief minister, yesterday declared he would never again attend a public event with Modi after suffering similar humiliation on Tuesday at Waithal.
“The Prime Minister’s functions in the Congress-ruled states are hurting the federal structure,” Chavan said. “What happened in Solapur was politically motivated.”
Sharma denied that the Congress high command had instructed its chief ministers to boycott Modi’s public events. However, sources said party general secretaries had asked the chief ministers to take appropriate measures “to protect the dignity of their office” — which they could hardly have done without clearance from Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
“We haven’t asked our chief ministers to boycott Modi but the entire party will back them in whatever decision they take,” senior party leader Ambika Soni said.
“This is a well-thought-out plan, a conspiracy. If the Prime Minister were serious, he would have sent a directive to his party men to stop this immediately.”
Another party general secretary, Shakeel Ahmed, appealed to all non-BJP chief ministers to avoid sharing a public platform with Modi. Sources said he had tried desperately last night to contact Soren to persuade him to skip today’s Ranchi function.
Congress leaders clarified that the chief ministers would keep engaging with the Prime Minister as part of their systemic responsibilities: they will only avoid sharing a public stage with Modi.
Karnataka chief minister P. Siddaramaiah said in the morning that protocol had prevented him from boycotting the Prime Minister but he had later been told to restrict himself to “official engagements”.
Asked why the Congress was blaming Modi, Sharma said: “He was guilty not by default (but) by design. He has lowered the dignity of the Prime Minister’s office.”
He alleged “a planned strategy to insult the chief ministers of election-bound states to create a political atmosphere in the BJP’s favour”.
“Humiliating people is an integral part of his work culture, his style. This is the first time the federal structure is being attacked under the PM’s supervision,” Sharma said.
“The reason for this unfortunate situation is the inability of the Prime Minister, the BJP and the RSS to tolerate other ideologies and differing views.”
Sharma and Soni claimed credit on the Congress’s behalf for not hitting back by getting party supporters to boo Modi.
A furious Soren condemned the BJP-Sangh “culture” for his ordeal, termed it the “rape” of Centre-state relations and “humiliation” of his state. His party sought an “apology” from the Prime Minister, threatening a boycott of all Union ministers in Jharkhand.
The BJP denied the allegations. “The crowds were excited to see the Prime Minister; they wanted to hear him. Now, if one or two hoot, one can’t do anything,” said Jharkhand BJP chief Ravindra Rai.
These meetings, where developmental projects are launched or dedicated, are organised by the Centre with an invite to the chief minister.
Modi was in Nagpur in connection with three events: the dedication of a power project and bhoomi pujan for a Metro and a flyover.
Chavan had apparently got wind of the possibility of a large BJP and Sangh contingent’s presence.