Modi playing into Congress hands?

Narendra Modi

Major and minor tremors have continued to rock the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ever since Narendra Modi’s appointment as the campaign chief for the 2014 general elections.

While the Janata Dal-United’s decision to break away from its alliance with the BJP, and senior leader L.K. Advani’s patent dissatisfaction with Modi’s elevation can be counted as major shocks, the minor ones include the resignation of a BJP vice president, Amir Raza Hussain, in protest against the Gujarat strongman’s use of the word burqa, or veil, to describe the Congress’s tactics.

Modi’s comment that the Congress covered itself with the burqa of secularism whenever it was in trouble might have been regarded as an attempt at humour, but the BJP’s former member saw it as a dig against the practice of Muslim women covering themselves with an all-enveloping cloak. The observation can also be interpreted as a sly reiteration of the longstanding saffron equation of secularism with the Congress’s policy of minority “appeasement”.

The remark might not have touched a raw nerve if, in an interview with a foreign news agency, Modi had not compared the impact of the Gujarat riots on him with the pain caused by the running over of a puppy by a car. To make matters worse, the chief minister had boasted during the interview that he was a Hindu nationalist.

The observation led to the Congress’s Digvijay Singh asking why he didn’t call himself an Indian nationalist. Since then, posters proclaiming Modi’s patriotism and Hindu nationalism have appeared in Mumbai, provoking speculation about the BJP’s line.

What these episodes show is how closely each of Modi’s words and deeds is scrutinized because of his deeply-hued saffron background. To compound the situation, the assertion by his aide, Amit Shah, that the Ram temple will be built in Ayodhya, and Modi’s own visit to the Jagannath temple in Puri, have tended to confirm the impression that he is taking the party back to its hardline Hindutva agenda.

The suspicion is deepened by the fact that the Hindu supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) has seemingly thrown its full weight behind Modi and clearly wants him to be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.

Yet, if the BJP is taking its time over naming him, it is probably because of two reasons. One is the internal opposition by Advani and Co. and the other is the fear that his projection will restrict the BJP’s appeal mainly to its core group of supporters to the exclusion of minorities and liberals.

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