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‘Aurangzeb’ tag on Modi

Ahmedabad, Nov. 20: Narendra Modi was compared to Aurangzeb today as he continued demolishing “illegally built” temples, ignoring grumbling within the BJP and attacks from Sangh affiliates and even the Congress.

A Hanuman shrine was pulled down yesterday, after one to Sai Baba on Tuesday night, as at least 154 temples in Gandhinagar fell in just over a week before the Gujarat chief minister’s bulldozing ambition to acquire a “secular” face.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Ashok Singhal visited the site of the Sai Baba temple today and, after a look at the rubble, exclaimed: “The Gujarat government is acting like Aurangzeb.”

The comparison to the 17th century Mughal emperor, one of the Sangh parivar’s pet hates, would be ironic for a man who was once the poster boy of the saffron brand of Hindutva before reinventing himself as a champion of development.

Modi’s loyalists believe he is vying with shadow Prime Minister L.K. Advani to showcase himself as a “nationally acceptable, secular leader”.

On Modi’s demolition list are another 161 temples, a dargah and a Christian prayer hall, all allegedly built on encroached land in Gandhinagar, the state capital and Advani’s constituency.

Modi says each of these structures is illegal and has been waving a high court order allowing the administration to flatten them “to widen the roads and beautify” the city. The collectorate, forest department and police began the demolition drive last week.

The move has widened the rift between Modi and the Parishad, whose spokesperson Jay Shah said: “The demolitions are an attack on the Hindu faith.”

The Congress, keen to deny the chief minister any “secular” sheen, described the demolitions as his way of getting back at the Parishad, and as another example of his alleged high-handedness. The Parishad’s Ahmedabad general secretary, Ashwin Patel, had circulated a text message allegedly defaming Modi and is facing sedition charges.

The Parishad’s south Gujarat vice-president, Ajay Joshi, told Singhal he (Joshi) had been removed as member of the MS University syndicate, the varsity’s highest decision-making body, by the Modi government. Joshi had criticised Patel’s arrest.

“Modi wants to convey that only he matters in Gujarat,” Congress spokesperson Arjun Modhwadia said.

The Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh has been silent so far but many BJP leaders are unhappy, fearing the drive may backfire.

“In his bid to be seen as a secular leader, he may be provoking Hindus to desert him,” an insider said. “More than Modi, Advani should be worried since he will have to handle the growing resentment among religious Hindus.”

Gordhan Zadaphia and Sunil Oza, former BJP leaders who recently floated the Mahagujarat Janata Party, claimed many of the demolished structures never obstructed any roads or projects.

Zadaphia challenged Modi to flatten the ashram of the chief minister’s spiritual guru, Asaram Bapu, alleged to have been built on encroached land.

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