That Narendra Modi softened his rhetoric on Pakistan while delivering his first public address since being declared the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 polls, to a rally of ex-servicemen, is plainly obvious.
Not only did he abandon some crowd-pleasing aggression while referring to cross-border terrorism, but he also invoked the idea of diplomacy, referring to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s efforts and also suggesting that India and Pakistan should work together to fight poverty and hunger.
The Indian Express points out that Modi, “in PM mode”, also stopped short of reiterating the BJP's stand that dialogue with Pakistan be called off.
Not just that, his speech was also perhaps carefully vetted to ensure no anti-minority slur had crept in unnoticed, reported The Hindustan Times. So, discarding comments such as his infamous “burqa of secularism” line, Modi in fact went on to call the country’s armed forces an exemplary symbol of secularism, exhorting the country to learn secularism from the way soldiers practised it.
The charisma was there, he had the crowd lustily roaring Vande Mataram, his speech a mix of the personal -- his childhood dream to be a soldier -- and the political.
Writing in The Indian Express, Swapan Dasgupta refers to Modi’s inspirational thrust. A “quasi-presidential campaign” could alter equations, he says, having stated that compared to the rest of the BJP top leadership, Modi alone had the charisma to counter the current electoral mathematics. Speaking to Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN, BJP leader Arun Jaitley made a similar point on Sunday – that 2014 could turn into a “referendum on leadership”.
A couple of hours after the speech, Modi’s Twitter handle posted photographs “sharing glimpses” of the “charged up” crowds in Rewari. “Narendra Modi in Rewari delivers a rousing Prime Ministerial speech, leads from the front,” claimed the newsletter that the tweet linked to. Perhaps that gaffe came from overenthusiastic backroom staffers, but was Sunday afternoon’s hour-long speech Modi’s first address to a national electorate? Not really.
For the past year, the BJP’s biggest national idea has been to disrupt Parliament. What will pass off as an aggressive Opposition may not convince voters, and Modi appeared to have chosen not to correct that image on Sunday.
“While the party may be celebrating the fact that it has stolen a march over its rival the Congress, it will now have to transform itself into a government-in-waiting and its newly anointed leader will have to start thinking nationally,” according to this editorial in The Hindustan Times.
Policy ideas, solutions to the “rupee in hospital” and a more precise description of his governance model or the “surajya” he repeatedly invokes – these were all conspicuously missing on Sunday afternoon.