The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rath rolls to cheers & jeers

Visvadhar (Saurashtra), Sept. 15: Narendra Modi could not have asked for more: his Gaurav Yatra made a dream debut in Saurashtra.

Well past midnight, a crowd of nearly 20,000 sat patiently in Amreli’s Raj Kamal Chowk waiting for the chief minister’s rath to roll in. They waited for over three hours, unmindful of the heat, mosquitoes and the occasional pig or cow that cut into the ranks seated neatly in rows across the roads.

There wasn’t much by way of entertainment until a local BJP organiser mustered a wit who set his jibes against Sonia Gandhi and Shankersinh Vaghela to music and regaled the crowds.

Modi did not let them down either. His 45-minute speech poked fun at Sonia for the most part. “Congressmen should stop seeing Gujarat through Italian glasses. But the trouble is most of them can’t see beyond Sonia. When it was a question of allowing the Jagannath yatra to pass through the state (after the violence), Gujarat Congressmen ran to Madam. Madam looked serious and asked them which party does Jagannath belong to' She thought he was another politician like L.K. Advani who wanted to go on a yatra. One Congressman picked up courage and said ‘Madam he’s a Hindu God’. ‘Oh, God, is it'’ she said. This Italy ka beti (daughter) wants to rule our country,” Modi said, sending the crowd into delirium.

That was last night. Today, Keshubhai Patel ruined his happiness. The moment his yatra left the Amreli border and entered Junagadh — Patel’s turf — the enthusiasm of the BJP supporters waned progressively until the response became an embarrassment in Vishvadhar, Patel’s former Assembly constituency.

The reason was clear: Amreli’s Lok Sabha MP, Dileep Sanghania, and its legislator, Purshottam Rupala, are Modi’s acolytes. BJP activists confirmed that the impressive midnight show was thanks entirely to their hard work.

In Vishvadhar, Patel’s supporters repeatedly interrupted Modi when he tried to address the crowd from atop his rath. Cries of “Keshubhai tum aage bado, hum tumhare saath hain (Keshubhai you take the lead, we are with you)” and “Keshubhai zindabad” rent the air every time the chief minister attempted to speak about Sonia or Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

Despite his hoarse throat, he was finally forced to raise his voice to the highest pitch to drown the pro-Patel slogans.

Even that didn’t help. Finally, an organiser was asked by Gujarat BJP chief Rajendrasinh Rana to quieten Patel’s supporters.

Patel opted out of the yatra, ostensibly because of ill health. But that did not deter him from criticising Modi for his provocative utterances against Muslims in the yatra’s first leg.

The presence of two large portraits of the former chief minister on the dais in Vishvadhar — the first to appear in a public meeting — did not satisfy his people.

They seemed so upset at the lack of mention of Patel in Modi’s speech that the slogan-shouting erupted again towards the end of the function. Finally, Modi was forced to admit that it was thanks entirely to Patel that Gujarat was blessed with the Narmada waters.

In Patel country, the belief, cutting across caste lines, was that he alone delivered something concrete when he ruled Gujarat. Modi, they said, survives only on “rhetoric and high emotions”.

Sayibhai Katrotia, the sarpanch of Oliya village in Amreli, listed Patel’s achievements: “He gave power connection to all farmers, he abolished an earlier law which stipulated that nobody could purchase land beyond a radius of 10 km of his place of residence. He allowed tractor trolleys to be used as passenger vehicles which was a boon in the rural areas where there is practically no other means of transport. Keshubhai was responsible for laying a water pipe which allowed Narmada water to irrigate our land. Finally, he abolished toll tax.”

As for Modi, beyond the perception that he “instilled a sense of security in Hindus”, post-Godhra, nobody could count a second achievement. Indeed, the Patels of Kalsari village, which borders Patel’s constituency, were upset with him for usurping the Narmada plank from Patel.

“He’s milking dry the matter of Narmada water flowing into the Sabarmati, but people are not fools. They know who is the real Narmada hero,” said Vajubhai Ambipara, a farmer.

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