Why Narendra Modi avoided Ayodhya visit: Development over sants

Narendra Modi isn't shy of embracing hardline Hindutva causes. But as part of his carefully crafted efforts to re-engineer image, as he positions himself for a national role, the Hindu Hriday Samrat is going to elaborate lengths to be seen not to be stoking hardcore Hindutva issues that might interfere with his image as a development mascot.

More specifically, Modi has excused himself from a rally of sadhus and sants in Ayodhya, the temple town that is at the epicentre of one if the contentious religious rifts that convulsed political India in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Modi evidently calculates that his political opponents - of whom he has plenty - would have used his visit to Ayodhya and the disputed site of the Ram Janmabhoomi / Babri Masjid to paint him an unrepentant Hindutva warrior, rather than the governance messiah image he wishes to project of himself.

Initial reports hinted that the Gujarat Chief Minister would be in the company of party president Rajnath Singh, VHP leaders Ashok Singhal and Praveen Togadia, Gorakhpur MP Yogi Aditya Nath and yoga guru Ramdev in Ayodhya.

 Why Narendra Modi avoided Ayodhya visit: Development over sants

Modi isn't keen on attracting any more controversy. Reuters

A spokesperson for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad said that Modi was expected to be in the town on
Wednesday or Friday, where he would also visit the site of the disputed Ram temple.

It would have been Modi's first visit  to the city after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Modi was expected to give a message to his party men "which would be important in the coming elections".

BJP sources were quoted as saying that the visit "would be adequately hyped up" to show the party's commitment to the temple. Unnamed sources also told DNA there would be rallies seeking that no mosque be allowed in the perimeter of the disputed shrine, and the BJP would also begin also start rallies and protests against the state and Centre's 'anti-people' policies.

However, just as the saffron buntings were being prepared for his arrival, the Gujarat Chief Minister's office said that there were two projects in his home state that needed his attention and he wouldn't be able to attend.

While a senior BJP leader cited Modi's keenness to avoid any more controversies, other sources told the Telegraph that the Gujarat Chief Minister would prefer to stick with his campaign based on development rather than alienate his urban and semi-urban supporters.

Modi has been focussed on boosting the party's chances in Uttar Pradesh, with key aide Amit Shah heading the party's campaign there, but the Gujarat Chief Minister isn't keen on falling into the trap many of his political opponents would like him to. Also, there's a long standing feud with VHP's Togadia  that may have played a role:

A source close to BJP chief Rajnath Singh, however, said Modi was concerned about his image and “wants to avoid rhetoric by frontal organisations like the VHP (that are) excited to see him as (a possible) future Prime Minister”.

Within a week of his elevation in the party, Modi's been witness to a a giant sulk by his former mentor and a splitting of the National Democratic Alliance, perhaps irretrievably over his possible elevation to the prime ministerial candidate of the party. The last thing Modi wants is to give the opposition fodder against him and maybe even alienate other allies, and perhaps wisely has demurred from attending an event that seems to be more committed to raising controversy than to furthering his political ambitions.

There was a time when visiting Ayodhya would have been a badge of honour for a BJP politician looking to project himself. Today, evidently, there's more mileage to be had from giving Ayodhya a wide berth. Thus has politics turned around in India.

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Updated Date: Jun 18, 2013 20:02:37 IST