A Hurdle Cleared
In what is seen as a significant endorsement, leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj today backed the prime ministerial ambitions of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, describing him as being fit for the position.
Swaraj who is campaigning in the Gujarat elections was speaking in Vadodara and said that there was no queue for the top job in her party.
”Narendra Modi has done stellar work in Gujarat and is indeed competent to be the prime minister”.
Even as the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha was vouching for Modi’s credentials for the top job in Delhi, the Gujarat chief minister began his election campaign after paying obeisance at the Somnath temple today, seeking five more years at the helm in the state.
In all his election meetings in the Saurashtra region he laid stress on the fact that the development of Gujarat was his only priority and focus and nothing else mattered to him at this moment. He addressed a series of public meeting lashing out at the congress saying that while Gujarat stood out as a model of development, the UPA rule was mired in corruption scandals galore.
If Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s ‘maut ka saudagar’ line cost her party heavy in the 2007 polls in Gujarat , BJP MP Navjyot Singh Sidhu’s incendiary remark, calling his onetime Gujarat party patriarch and present GPP president Keshubhai Patel "anti-national", is likely to extract a heavy price for the ruling party this time over.
Sidhu reportedly made the insinuation while speaking at an election rally in support of party candidate, minister of state Kanubhai Bhalala who is opposing the veteran in Visavadar constituency of Junagadh district in Saurashtra region on November 29. Also present was BJP Rajya Sabha MP Mansukhbhai Mandaviya.
The statement got an indignant response from Patel himself who is a founder member of the Gujarat Jan Sangh and the founder president of the state BJP. ”I have been a swayamsevak of the RSS for over 65 years and for long years the present chief minister Narendra Modi has worked with me. I would want to know from him as to what acts of mine put me in this category,” he questioned.
Terming this as one of the worst allegations any Indian can be subjected to, he charged chief minister Modi and the Gujarat BJP with using Sidhu to cast aspersions at him. ”I have a clean record in public life and the use of people to level such charges speaks of the debasement of the BJP and its leader and the rock bottom levels they have stooped to," he added.
Hurling the gauntlet at the ruling party in the state Patel asked those operating from behind the curtain to come out in public and give a single example of his anti-national acts.” In the old times those guilty of such offences were stoned to death in public .Let them come forward and do the same to me,” I defy them he added.
'Devil Quoting Scriptures'
Patel also took exception to the reported statement that voting for Patel amounted to eating cow’s meat
"A government under which village pastures were sold to industrialists on a massive scale leading to cows ending up in slaughterhouses is today talking saintly. It is like devil quoting the scriptures and tarnishing others," he added.
Patel attributed such utterances to the the sense of gloom prevailing in the BJP camp. It was stated at the meeting that I was back stabber. "Whatever I have done is face to face. I have exposed the corrupt acts of a despotic government,” he added.
Fuel to the Fire
Though BJP spokesperson Vijay Rupani sought to deflect Sidhu’s statement saying that he had only termed him as ‘paksh-drohi,’ the damage has been done since the GPP has decided to make it an issue. The issue is likely to have an impact in Saurashtra region where Patel commands considerable respect. The labeling has also been viewed with consternation in the Patidar community which views him as a revered elder.
Reports coming in from Saurahstra region speak of anxious moments for the ruling party in the state which had actually increased its tally from 37 to 38 of the total 52 seats in the region between the 2002 to 2007 Vidhan Sabha elections. Besides the ire of the patidars (patels), the BJP is also battling against a division in the ranks of the Sangh parivar organizations which are split between Patel’s outfit GPP and the BJP.
Sidhu’s statement may just have gone to add fuel to an already simmering fire.