How the PM allowed Modi to play victim and aggressor

Narendra Modi finally got the opportunity that he perhaps had been looking for in these elections - to be the angry man and defender of the wounded pride of the 'six crore Gujaratis' he claims to represent.  The provocation came from the most unlikely quarter, from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who said time has come to "liberate" Gujarat from divisive politics, alleging that minorities were feeling "insecure" in the state.

The Prime Minister's questioning of Modi's development model for the state, like Congress president Sonia Gandhi had done only a day ago, was enough for the Chief Minister to launch a series of retaliatory strikes at various public rallies on Sunday that finally ended at Ahmedabad at 10 pm.

Before a cheering crowd, Modi combined role of an actor, an orator, a patron communicating with people he believed he could count on and made multiple references to the Prime Minister.

Modi's speeches seemed to target the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi over their recent comments. PTI

If that wasn't enough, "Madam Sonia Ji, Sonia Ben" also came in for some sharp criticism for her statement that she did not see any development in Gujarat. Her political secretary and senior Congress leader from Gujarat, Ahmed Patel's, barbs that "Modi did not remain a chief minister but had become a sultan" was used to give some blistering finishing touches to his over 40-minute-long speech. The Chief Minister referred to Ahmed Patel as Ahmed "miyan", and then explained that in the Muslim community "miyan" was a term reserved for a family's venerated elder.

Modi chose to highlight the case of two girls who were arrested for their comments on Facebook recently over the death of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, and the fact that one of the girl's family chose to take refuge in Gujarat following the controversial incident.

"Pradhan Mantriji if you had come to Gujarat you should have debated on development and instead got into vote bank politics. You are aware of the plight of the Muslim girl Shaheen, who was sent to jail simply for posting a comment on Facebook. Her family had to flee from Maharashtra and come here, to Gujarat. Maharashtra has a Congress government, Delhi has a Congress government, but when it came to Shaheen she was lodged in jail. Arre Pradhan Mantriji , Shaheen has given a tight slap on your face."

He did not stop at that and also took on the Prime Minister over the recent riots in Assam.

"You are country's Prime Minister and are from the Rajya Sabha, where you represent Assam. Assam has a Congress government, you are head of central government in Delhi, but you allowed communal clashes go on in Assam for months, letting hundreds die and thousands displaced. I am asking for answers from you."

For Modi, this election campaign appeared to be a battle of nerves with the Chief Minister first provoking, waiting for a response and retaliating. And if anyone from the Congress senior leadership strayed even slightly from the conscious strategy in this poll to not name Modi or refer to any communal issue, the Gujarat Chief Minister has gone to town playing both victim and aggressor.

While Manmohan Singh chose to remain vague about which minority felt insecure in Gujarat, Modi chose to highlight the role of the Parsi community which had thrived in Guajrat. It's unlikely the Prime Minister was referring to the Parsi community feeling insecure, but then Modi knows better than anyone that politics is also about demagoguery.

He also chose to invoke Gujarati pride by taking on the Prime Minister for saying unemployment was rising.

"You go to so many states and cities. Have you ever seen a Gujarati wandering there to seek a job? Whereas there is no district or the state of the country from where a person is not working in various parts of Gujarat," Modi said.

For Modi, nothing comes between him and the audience and there is no rising wooden or plastic podium behind which most other leaders stand. He stands in front of a tall mike, throws hands in all directions and drops his hands in and out of his pockets, but the impact of his speeches on the crowd is electric. Modi chose to take on Sonia Gandhi by first referring to her in his speech, and then consciously pausing to let crowd roar in response.

"Madam Sonia had come. She did not see any development. Perhaps she had forgotten due to her illness that an organisation that she heads, named after her husband Rajiv Gandhi, had after a comparative evaluation named Gujarat as number one state in development," he said to cheers.

From being the angry leader, he suddenly turned into an entertainer, getting a few laughs from his audience by poking fun at the Congress' poll slogan "Disha Bhi Badlo, Dasha Bhi Badlo" (Change the path and the course also).

Modi picked on Ahmed Patel for his use of the term "sultan" to refer to him.

"Sultans are borne out of sultans. The dynastic system is prevalent in the party he belongs to. Otherwise the era of sultans ended after the Mughal era. Modi is a product of democracy, of affection of Gujarati people," he said.

At 9.58 pm, two minutes before the Election Commission's deadline to end public campaigning, Modi finished his speech happy that his message seems to have hit home. A similar speech in Hindi could have hit uncomfortable rough patches elsewhere in the country, but on his home turf the crowd doesn't seem to be asking for anything more.