The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Small crowd, few cheers at Dhar

Dhar (Madhya Pradesh) Nov. 18: The bite was lacking, and so was the crowd.

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi began his hyped campaign tour of the Malwa region from a carefully chosen venue — in front of the controversial Bhojshala — but failed to pack a punch. The modest crowd hardly seemed interested in hearing the “Hindu Hriday Samrat” harp on bad roads, the power crisis and lack of development.

The only cheers the BJP’s star campaigner got was for demanding that a Saraswati idol, currently in London, be brought back to Bhojshala, which Muslims consider a mosque and Hindus an 11th century temple-cum-learning centre.

In February, there were violent clashes over claims to Bhojshala resulting in two deaths. Upbeat BJP leaders have been claiming privately that the “communal polarisation” would benefit them in a region that sends 65 MLAs to the 230-member House. At present, the Congress has 48 MLAs from the region.

On the face of it, the BJP is focusing on development and Modi’s speech was testimony to it. But a closer look indicates otherwise. Modi associate Madhu Srivastva, the controversial MLA accused of threatening Best Bakery case witness Zahira Sheikh, is camping in the region, coordinating with the state RSS, the Hindu Jagran Manch and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Asked to comment on Srivastva’s presence, Modi snapped: “The Congress can field Zahira if they wish to.”

The BJP’s game plan is two-pronged. It has instructed leaders like Modi to keep talking about development and try to nail Digvijay on the lack of it, but on the ground, Hindutva issues are being alive with active support from Sangh outfits.

The Gujarat chief minister acknowledged the strategy when, at a news conference before the rally, he sought to establish a link between the Hindutva plank and development, saying they are inseparable like “kameez and pyjama”.

In Madhya Pradesh, the entire campaign is being handled by the state RSS. Apart from mobilising support for BJP nominees, the RSS’ prime task is to use its influence to keep the perennial factionalism in a tight leash.

Referring to Digvijay as “Diggybabu,” Modi showcased his government’s achievements, challenging Digvijay to match him in providing employment to 100,000 unemployed youth in two years. “He has not been able to do that in 10 years,” Modi said.

He claimed that if the Madhya Pradesh government had cooperated, 1500 mw power could have been generated from the Sardar Sarovar project.

Modi said it is a pity that the state continued to face acute water shortage though the Narmada passes through several villages and towns of the state. “Look at us. We got Narmada water to Kutch, 900 kilometres away,” he said.

Straying from development, Modi mocked Digvijay for claiming he could prevent riots. “When I meet him, I would definitely like to know how he could prevent riots. I think a person can only do that if he has prior knowledge of the designs (of troublemakers) and has strong links to determine the time and duration of riots.”

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