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Modi plays party’s good son in makeover gamble

Gandhinagar, Dec. 24: Celebratory headgear replacing the street-savvy mask, Narendra Modi today set out on what looks like an image makeover path that could eventually wind its way to Delhi.

“It is the need of the hour that we be large-hearted towards each and everyone. Now that the elections are over, there should be no bitterness, no ill-will towards our rivals,” Modi told newly elected BJP legislators still savouring yesterday’s thumping victory.

Modi did not clarify who he meant by “each and everyone” — the comment came while he was referring to dissidents — but the words crystallised the stirrings of restraint in evidence since last evening.

The wide margin of triumph makes Modi an almost sure-fire aspirant for a bigger political role but, on the long road to Delhi, what he so far counted as assets are certain to become liabilities.

The speech Modi delivered at the pre-coronation event today — he will be sworn in tomorrow — sounded almost like a deliberate attempt to change perceptions, point by point.

The first issue he addressed was the overwhelming perception that the victory had made him bigger than the party. “Those who say Modi is bigger than the party do not know what the history of the BJP and the Jan Sangh is. A son cannot ever be bigger than the mother,” an emotional Modi said.

Such an assurance is unlikely to calm the nerves of the BJP’s GeNext but Modi will be hoping that the public pronouncement will give less ammunition to spoilers within the party.

Modi, who had to make do without the machinery of the Sangh parivar that has fallen out with him, also paid tribute to the “selfless” crusade of the Jan Sangh — the first political outfit sired by the RSS.

“In the days of the Jan Sangh, candidates of the party used to lose their deposits in most elections. At that time, many dedicated workers and families sincerely worked for the party,” Modi said. One reason that has apparently turned the RSS against Modi is his alleged arrogance — a charge that he repeatedly sought to address indirectly today.

Modi also signalled a willingness to forgive the dissidents who had openly campaigned against him. “We should forget what has happened and throw open our doors for those who have left us,” he said, although key dissidents were showcaused or suspended two days before the results apparently under pressure from the chief minister.

“It is the need of the hour to be generous and respectful to all,” said Modi, chanting the mantra of namrata (politeness) and vivek (restraint) that played on his lips yesterday.

The man accused of either engineering the riots or turning a blind eye when Gujarat burned took the podium as a preacher of tolerance and asked the MLAs to learn the virtue from him.

“I kept mum (in the face of vilification campaigns) because I knew some day, we will be together again. Be tolerant and accept criticism with grace.”

The personal “example” bubbled to the surface again when it came to performance. Modi told the MLAs that they have to match his “speed” at work or “be left behind”.

Sporting a nine-metre pagdi from Jodhpur gifted by Gujarat BJP in-charge .M. Mathur, Modi kept referring to “development” — the sole facet of Moditva that will find some acceptance elsewhere in India. “The festival of elections is over, but the festival of progress has begun. In the coming days, I want to increase the pace of progress.”

For all the gestures of reconciliation, Modi has so far not uttered a word on the riots. Nor has he made a conscious effort to reach out to the minority community — perhaps keeping in mind his core constituency and the realisation that Delhi still lies afar.

Tomorrow, at 12.39pm — considered auspicious — Modi would be sworn in at the Sardar Patel Stadium that will be thrown open to the public. L.K. Advani and party president Rajnath Singh will reach Ahmedabad in a private nine-seater plane in the morning.

But the leaders will return tomorrow itself as Atal Bihari Vajpayee — whose exasperated advice of rajdharma Modi must follow now if he has to change his image — will be celebrating his birthday in Delhi.

However, in the hour of benevolence, Modi could not forget one enemy — sections of the media. “It is vikrut manskita (perverted mindset) to say that Modi is bigger than the party,” he said. “My image appears to be bigger because of the limitation of your (journalists’) lenses which stop at me. If you were to widen your focus, you could see thousands of BJP workers who have lifted me up on their shoulders.”

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