Lucknow, May 3: Narendra Modi hit the campaign trail in Uttar Pradesh with 100 crore Indians on his lips, no less.
“I would seek the support of 100 crore Indians, and not of any particular section of society,” he said, dispelling speculation that the BJP might have brought him down to Uttar Pradesh with an eye on polarising votes on communal lines.
There was no hint of hardline communal rhetoric as he addressed small meetings or spoke to the media, doffing his hat to Atal Bihari Vajpayee at all times.
“Voters normally look at the leader, the policies and the legacy of a party. When we have Vajpayee as the prime ministerial candidate for the second term, why should they have a question mark' Is there any alternative to him'” Modi asked at an election rally here.
Later, in Lakhimpur Kheri, a constituency bordering Nepal from where BJP state president Vinay Katiyar is contesting, Modi continued in the same vein.
Katiyar shifted here, dropping his Faizabad seat that covers Ayodhya. The BJP had lost this seat by a thin margin in 1999 and Lakhimpur Kheri is one of the 10 constituencies the party has targeted for intensive canvassing, as part of which Modi went around addressing several gatherings.
The crowds — traders, party supporters and local residents — were small and Modi was mild, except when he attacked Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
“She is unfit to be the Prime Minister of the country not only because she is a foreigner but she is also too uneducated and insensitive to India’s unique cultural traditions,” Modi said in Lakhimpur town.
In his offensive on Sonia, too, he was much more restrained than he had earlier been when he had drawn bovine comparisons to her and her children.
It was a comment Vajpayee had strongly disapproved of and Modi played the game here according to the rules set by the Prime Minister, who has been trying to bridge the distance of his party with the minority community with repeated reminders that the BJP is a non-communal organisation.
The decision to draft Modi into the Uttar Pradesh campaign, given the predilection of Vajpayee and the party, had raised doubts that the BJP was working at cross-purposes.
Modi’s campaign content has cleared those doubts.
Asked about the Prime Minister seeking minority votes, Modi replied: “Vajpayee’s appeal is in itself so powerful that I cannot come between the Muslims and him.”
If government and BJP sources in Delhi are to be believed, Modi’s stay in Uttar Pradesh will be short. Campaigning for the May 5 polls ended today and it is not certain if the Gujarat chief minister will return for the last round.
Why was he sent at all in that case' The sources explained that Modi — a Teli (oil miller) — is the BJP’s most successful Other Backward Classes leader. But the Telis have a minor presence here.
Word had apparently been sent to Modi that he should stick to the party line of seeking votes on development and governance.
“The Congress has fallen into a trend of retrogression now. Its decadent culture has helped throw up leaders like Sonia Gandhi,” he said.