| Narendra Modi’s effigy being burnt after Friday’s in Hyderabad on Friday. (PTI)
New Delhi/Ahmedabad, Oct. 26: In Gujarat’s poll arena, it’s the BJP and not the Congress that will be milking the Tehelka sting on Narendra Modi and his riot henchmen.
The Congress will not put the “exposé” on its campaign agenda for fear it will polarise voters, “paper over caste divisions, wash away the anti-incumbency feeling and turn Modi into a hero again”, a party source in Delhi said.
“Now that the Congress has hatched a conspiracy with Tehelka to defame the BJP and Modi, we will surely make it our poll plank,” Gujarat BJP spokesman Vijay Rupani said.
The sting operation, telecast last night on a private channel, shows BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders claiming that Modi gave them three days to do “whatever we could” after the Godhra train fire.
So far, it has led to a muted call from Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan for the chief minister to step down.
“We have been silent on Godhra and the riots so long to avoid being seen as ‘appeasing’ the Muslims. But just when the matter was fading from people’s memories, it has come back to bail Modi out,” a Gujarat Congress leader said.
B.K. Hari Prasad, the Congress general secretary in charge of Gujarat, however, said Modi wouldn’t gain all that much. In 2002, the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal were staunchly behind the chief minister, helping him reap the gains from the Hindu-Muslim divide. This time, he has lost their goodwill.
“You need a strong organisation to back a communal agenda and Modi doesn’t have one,” Prasad said.
Some central BJP leaders agreed, saying it could not yet be presumed that the Sangh parivar would unite behind Modi even if the Tehelka exposé re-ignites sectarian passions.
Besides, a BJP leader in Delhi added, Modi is likely to persist with the development plank instead of changing his strategy overnight.
“Modi had little to show in terms of development in 2002 (when a polarised electorate handed him a landslide). But he thinks he has achieved a lot now. If some benefits come as a by-product of communal tension, it will be a bonus.”
The Congress campaign may, however, make tangential reference to the riots in an attempt to win the tribal vote back. It will accuse the BJP of instigating people, especially tribals, to attack and kill Muslims and then dumping them.
“Four thousand people are languishing in prisons for aiding and abetting the violence. They realise they were used as cannon fodder by Modi. Nobody has lifted a finger to get them bail. Some of them could be innocent too,” Hari Prasad said.
He claimed that most of the undertrials were tribals from north and central Gujarat. The tribals had voted in large numbers for the BJP in the 2002 elections, pulverising the Congress in its traditional strongholds.
The sting has thrown up another problem for the Congress by attempting to show that Gordhan Zadaphia, Gujarat’s home minister during the 2002 violence, was in cahoots with the rioters.
Zadaphia is now a leader of the BJP rebels who plan a united fight with the Congress against Modi. After the TV exposé, the Congress is unlikely to have any truck with him.
The party has now decided to have an open understanding only with the “moderate” Suresh Mehta, a former chief minister, and Rajkot MP Vallabhai Katheria who reportedly doesn’t carry a communal taint. Both are likely to meet Hari Prasad and Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, soon.
Dismay in Delhi
The central BJP leadership, however, is worried that whatever the dividends in Gujarat, the Tehelka sting will dent the party’s image at the national level.
“We are not concerned about Gujarat but the larger political scheme cannot be ignored,” a leader said, claiming the BJP’s opponents were keen to damage the party keeping in mind the next Lok Sabha election.
The BJP also believes that the exposé will hurt the national ambitions of Modi, portrayed as a future Prime Minister by his loyalists.
Senior party leaders in Delhi today admitted to a sense “discomfiture and dismay”.
Spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad betrayed the party’s extreme nervousness when he refused to take media questions on the subject. Even off the record, BJP leaders had no answers to most questions.
VARSITY HEADS IN SPOT FOR PRAISING CM
The Election Commission has pulled up the vice-chancellor and pro-vice-chancellor of Saurashtra University for allegedly making speeches praising chief minister Narendra Modi ahead of the state polls.
Commission sources said vice-chancellor Kamlesh Joshipura had said at Rajkot that “the chief minister has created educational opportunities for the youth (and) performed a miracle in the education sector”. He allegedly went on to say that “because of the chief minister’s efforts the bell of development is tolling” in the state.
It also rapped Joshipura for travelling to a political meeting in his official vehicle, saying he had failed to “maintain absolute impartiality in the matter of public conduct as expected of the high office you hold”.
Pro-vice-chancellor Kaplak Trivedi had apparently chanted “Narendra Modi once more” and that “the victory of the CM is definite”.
The commission said the remarks amounted to a “political speech eulogising the chief minister” and the panel was therefore “constrained to convey its severe displeasure in the matter to you”.