'Gujarat my atma, India paramatma': Narendra Modi strikes emotional chord in land where he built his political mojo
In choosing to launch his campaign for the upcoming Gujarat Assembly election from Bhuj, Narendra Modi chose to go back to his roots.
Those who visited Bhuj and Anjar in the immediate aftermath of the 26 January, 2001, earthquake and came again a year later would've appreciated the relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts that had been undertaken there.
The landscape of these two townships and its adjoining areas had changed. All signs of devastation and the worn-out look and feel usually associated with small towns had gone. They now represented refreshing, new cities that were marching ahead with changing times, towards modernity.
Narendra Modi, who had been sent to Gujarat by the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani from Delhi in October 2001, took the baton from the then Gujarat chief minister and party's veteran leader Keshubhai Patel. Modi, in difficult times, managed to prove his administrative ability in just a matter of months and let the nation know that he was a man with a vision and mega plans.
Before arriving in Ahmedabad, Modi was based in Delhi as the general secretary of the party. He had no administrative experience and had never fought an election. The way he went ahead with the reconstruction of Bhuj and Ajnar – quietly working and keeping his cool even as political rivals and critics launched sustained attacks against him in the wake of the Godhra riots – helped him take the first steps towards building the 'brand Modi' that he is today.
The project to transform Rann of Kutch from miles of a barren desert to a tourist destination was taken up by Modi – a piece of land he himself describes as 'one side registan (desert), the other side Pakistan'.
No wonder then, Modi chose to launch his campaign for the upcoming Gujarat Assembly election from Bhuj. It was like getting back to his roots.
The place will always have a bearing on Modi's political journey. Today, as prime minister, it is of utmost importance for him to win this election with an increased margin as it will help smoothen his journey to securing a second term.
The importance of his Bhuj rally, his first since becoming prime minister and the first of his current campaign, was not lost on the people of the region either. Visuals of his visit to Ashapura Mata Mandir in Bhuj and his public rally later suggested as much.
During his temple visit, men, women and children lined up to shake hands with him and exchange greetings. The crowd response must've been encouraging for him and his party.
This time around, Modi has built his political narrative on three things – first being development, (self/BJP) versus dynasty (Rahul Gandhi/Congress); second, on Gujarat's asmita (pride); and third, projecting himself as a son of the soil, an inheritor of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's legacy.
At Kutch and Rajkot (the best-known town in Saurashtra region and a place with a sizeable Patel population) he invoked Sardar Patel. Without naming Rahul, he took a dig at the Congress leader when he said that 'people are coming here and saying all kinds of things and trying to malign the image of the state'.
"Those slinging mud on us will help the lotus bloom even more… Gujaratis will not tolerate an insult to Gujarat," Modi said.
He made eloquent references to Sardar Patel and how the Congress aligned with the first family systematically and tried to marginalise his public stature. He said that Jawaharlal Nehru as prime minister was least concerned about Gujarat. Modi slammed Nehru for not doing any significant work in the aftermath of an earthquake in Anjar during his reign and compared it with the work he (Modi) did as chief minister after the 2001 earthquake.
It was important for him to convince people that he may have left Gujarat to become prime minister but his soul still rests in his home state: "Gujarat is my atma (soul) and India is my Paramatma (God). This land of Gujarat has cared for me, Gujarat has given me strength."
The chaiwala jibe by Youth Congress came in handy for Modi to target the party and the dynastic politics it pursues. Modi has had made his humble background his biggest USP. By calling him a chaiwala in a tweet, which was subsequently deleted, Congress has inadvertently armed Modi with more firepower.
Modi's point was simple yet impactful – that the Congress cannot reconcile with the fact that the party and its first family have been thrown out of power. "I can sell tea, but wouldn't sell India," he added. Though he didn't refer to the Bofors or any other scams, his intended message was clear.
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