The Telegraph
Sunday , January 5 , 2014
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BJP buzz: Modi won’t bite PM riot bait

New Delhi, Jan. 4: Narendra Modi will “tread cautiously” when, just over a week from now, he is expected to reply to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s searing attack on him yesterday, BJP sources said.

When Modi addresses his first public meeting this year in Panaji on January 12, he will try to avoid any answer that might revive the memories of the 2002 pogrom or be seen to carry undertones of a Hindu-Muslim polarisation, they added.

Singh had taken care to underline the Gujarat riots at his news conference yesterday when he said that Modi would be “disastrous” for India as Prime Minister while playing down the possibility of it happening.

Modi has so far not said a word on Singh’s assault, leaving it to senior colleagues such as Arun Jaitley to answer the barb that a “strong” Prime Minister was not one who presided over the massacre of innocents.

Considering that Modi’s next public appearance would be in Goa, his statements would have to be especially “nuanced”, the BJP sources said.

The BJP had wrested Goa in 2012 after serial losses and after making serious overtures to both the Christians and Muslims and partially winning their support. When the BJP had lost the 2002 Goa election, its leaders had privately acknowledged a large-scale consolidation of minority votes against the party.

Sources said that rather than hark back to Singh’s reference to the 2002 violence, Modi was expected to focus on the UPA’s governance and “contrast” it with his record in Gujarat.

They added that Modi would follow the Panaji meeting up with rallies in places such as Uttar Pradesh, Bhubaneswar and Guwahati, where too he would try to avoid stirring the Hindu-Muslim pot.

“He doesn’t need to reinforce his pro-Hindu credentials. These have been imprinted on the minds of those they were meant for. He is playing for big national stakes; so it will be counterproductive to provoke a debate along communal lines,” a party official said.

“Modi has so far confined his speeches to development, corruption and governance (since entering the national political stage). He would not like to stray from these subjects. Simply juxtaposing his personality and achievements with those of Singh or Rahul Gandhi will do the job.”

At a recent rally in Ranchi, his first after an Ahmedabad court rejected a petition seeking to examine his role in the 2002 riots, Modi had stayed mum on the verdict. He had left it to party president Rajnath Singh to gush over the “exoneration”.

More important, the sources said, there was a “middle space” in the electorate that was “distinctly uncomfortable” with the BJP’s conventional genre of “narrow-minded” politics, typified by condemnations of Valentine’s Day celebrations and happy hours at pubs.

“But many of those in this category are taken in by Modi’s achievements in Gujarat. So it is important for him to appear broad-minded and socially and culturally tolerant. This is the space we have to focus on, because those that occupy it today are also attracted to the Aam Aadmi Party.”

In the past, whenever the Congress has tried to corner Modi on the Muslim question in Gujarat, the move has backfired. In the 2002 state elections, the Congress tried a “soft Hindutva” campaign that made a show of Sonia Gandhi in the company of sadhus and sants. Still, it lost.

In 2007, it swung to the opposite extreme, dubbing Modi a “merchant of death”. It lost again.

Still, sources said, Modi is “unlikely” to bite Singh’s bait on 2002 this time.