Bhojpuri songs, 14 trains, 3,000 buses for Modi’s ‘Hunkar Rallty’ in Patna on Sunday

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The Bharatiya Janata Party is leaving no stone unturned ahead of its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s ‘Hunkar rally’ in Patna on Sunday. It’s a rally of gigantic proportions and logistics. The BJP has installed hundreds of NaMo tea stalls across Bihar to highlight Modi’s humble background. Modi crackers have been introduced into the market. More than 14 trains and 3,000 buses have been booked. Hotels in Patna have been blocked en masse. The BJP has installed 10 food stalls in Patna to provide free food packets to over 10 lakh expected visitors. ALSO SEE Narendra Modi’s ‘Hunkar Rally’ to change Bihar’s political landscape: BJP At the Gandhi Maidan, a huge steel stage has been erected with a 30-foot-long electronic screen. Thirty screens will dot the ground to ensure that even those sitting at a distance get a clear view of the stage.

Modi may not understand Bhojpuri himself but these days his Bhojpuri CDs are being played at every tea stall in Bihar marketing the BJP’s much hyped ‘Hunkar rally’, to be held at Patna’s historic Gandhi Maidan on Sunday. It’s the BJP’s first mega show in the state after the Janata Dal United ended their 17-year-old alliance.

Neeraj Kumar, Head of BJP Technical Cell, said, “As BJP is seen as a party with a difference, this would be a rally with a difference”. He added, “There will be call alerts for Modi’s speech. People can call and listen to his speech free of cost.” Another BJP leader Giriraj Singh said we want everyone to be able to see Modi and listen to his speech. Team Modi is making all efforts to turn BJP’s ‘Hunkar rally’ into a mega show of strength. Booking 1000s of buses, trains and optimum use of technology to mobilise crowd, playing Bhojpuri numbers and tongas, which strikes instant chord with the masses. The party’s political opponents are, however, calling it a ugly display of wealth. JD(U) spokesperson Dr Ajay Alok said, “The way they are spending money is nothing but a corporate rally. Income Tax should take a note of it”. Giriraj Singh hit back saying, “It is not a corporate rally. It will be a big rally enough for people to remember.” Senior party leaders from Bihar – 12 MPs and 91 MLAs have fanned out across the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state to build momentum. After all, Modi was kept out of bounds in the 17 years in which the BJP and the JDU were partners.

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The peacemaker avatar: Why Modi wants Thackerays to reunite

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There is almost nothing that Modi does that his admirers don’t think is worth a national holiday. It is in fact true that Modi has surreptitiously edged past Sachin Tendulkar and Shah Rukh Khan in his bespoke ability to set fire to people’s imagination. Who else, one wonders, could have catapulted an imaginary puppy to the exulted ranks only a Harry Potter could have staked claim to. And in an age when the hottest heroes in the world are vampires swathed in Armani, Narendra Modi breathed life back into the ganjee and buff machismo of a near-forgotten Rambo. For all you know, he is probably capable of turning Ajay Jadeja into a highly-bid star in the next IPL auction. So the news that he has taken on the seemingly impossible task of making Uddhav Thackeray hug and make up with cousin and Shiv Sena nemesisRaj Thackeray doesn’t come as a surprise.

The Economic Times reports that after plastering Mumbai with his ‘I am a Hindu Nationalist’ posters, the Gujarat Chief Minister is on a drive to secure the ranks of BJP by getting the fighting Thackeray cousins to support him, in unison. 

Senior BJP figures in Maharashtra have been tasked by the Gujarat chief minister to work on the two cousins for “Maha Yuti”, or a “grand alliance”, to ensure that the anti-Congress votes are not split. 

Following the orders of the Gujarat CM, BJP Maharashtra chief Devendra Phadanvis, has reportedly held several meetings with Raj Thackeray about the possibility of an alliance. He has also been in touch with Uddhav Thackeray to discuss a patch-up. The political math here is easy to get. With the MNS and the Shiv Sena joining hands, votes for the NDA will swell. However, given how despite a show of stirring emotion at Bal Thackeray‘s funeral the cousins have gone back to being the political counterparts of SRK and Salman Khan, a reconciliation doesn’t seem in order.

In fact, (and here is the cue for Modi supporters to declare Uddhav a heretic) the Shiv Sena leader in a recent editorial in party mouthpiece ‘Saamana’ applauded Congress leader and Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan’s role in extending help to Uttarakhand and sharply criticised Narendra Modi for his now infamous chartered plane swoop-down that allegedly rescued 15,000 Gujaratis. An India Today article points out how Chavan was praised for embodying the ‘broad-mindedness’ of the Maharashtrians – and Modi criticized for the lack of exactly the same virtue. India Today quotes Thackeray as saying:

“Chavan has shown Maharashtra’s large-heartedness and magnanimity in the face of such a massive disaster, not only for the people of this state stranded in Uttarakhand, but for victims from across the country,” Thackeray said… Chavan had declared, while dispatching a planeload of relief material with a large team of officials, that though the aid was intended for people from the state stranded in Uttarakhand, other victims would not be ignored.

 

On the other hand, he asked Modi to overcome narrow interests now that he has been bequeathed with a national role in BJP. However, Narendra Modi, didn’t let such criticism upset his morale. As this Indian Express article notes, he soon made a trip to Mumbai where he met Uddhav and made up for his reportedly selected generosity extended to Uttarakhand victims.

Uddhav, as a result, mellowed a little and agreed that Modi is ‘doing good work’. However, he was not willing to give up easily and criticised his PR machinery for going out of control. NDTV says in an article:

Mr Thackeray said at a press conference this afternoon that Mr Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, “is doing good work.” But, he cautioned, “the actions of his publicists could boomerang.”

Cousin Raj Thackeray, on the other hand, is not too critical of Narendra Modi. Something that has even irked Uddhav in the past. While not much is known about the rebel Thackeray’s relationship with Modi, the BJP leadership in Maharashtra is not too pleased with Raj trying to play Abraham Lincoln to the Maharashtrians and hijack the Shiv Sena’s agenda. BJP leader Vinod Tawde, in an interview to The Indian Express, had chastised Raj for trying to emulate Modi in Maharashtra without joining hands with the party. He said:

But MNS perceives itself as the alternative to the Congress-NCP alliance. Like Arvind Kejriwal, Raj Thackeray thinks of himself as the only credible alternative. He wants to become the Narendra Modi of Maharashtra. But the MNS needs ground credibility, which is missing.

The chances of Raj and Uddhav coming together are bleak more because the brothers are zealously protective about their position in the party hierarchies. Neither wants to cede political ground to the other and both want to stay the single most worshipped leader in the region. The Shiv Sena, as of now, has 11 seats in the Lok Sabha, the MNS doesn’t have any but splits voteswhich could go to the NDA, leading to the victory of the Congress-NCP alliance. Naturally, Modi wants the brothers to join hands so that BJP’s chances are boosted in the state. Or maybe, he is just returning a favour to the Thackeray clan! ATimes of India report from 2009 states:

“There were hectic moves to remove Modi from the post after the Godhra riots. We clearly told Advani that Gujarat will be lost if Modi is removed,” Thackeray wrote in an editorial in the Sena mouthpiece ‘Saamana’.

The Thackeray in question here is the late Bal Thackeray. The Gujarat CM could possibly be saving the Sena dynasty in Maharashtra by getting the two cousins together!

Expressing ‘pain’ for 2002 riots, how Modi is looking ahead to 2014 Part 3

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One key to the way Modi has transformed his image is “Vibrant Gujarat”, a project he launched in 2003. The biennial event is aimed at attracting investment to his state. But it is also, say some of those involved in the project, a propaganda exercise aimed at erasing the black stain of the riots and marketing Gujarat, and therefore Modi, to India and the world.

“The image makeover was needed as Modi realised that as a hardliner, he would have limited acceptability in the political spectrum,” said one of Gujarat’s top civil servants. “So he started working on his image and the Vibrant Gujarat summit of 2003 was a big step towards it. The subsequent summits have further helped in shaping his image.”

The event started small but is now marketed as a kind of mini-Davos with Japan and Canada as partner countries. At the 2013 summit, 121 countries attended, according to the Gujarat government.

In one memorable moment, Modi, India’s richest businessmen and diplomats from Japan, Canada and Britain among others, raised hands together as a packed auditorium cheered. It was a powerful image, signalling Modi’s acceptance by major foreign powers and business leaders. Anil Ambani, head of India’s third-largest telecommunications company, called him a “lord of men.”

In what many political analysts viewed as a breakthrough moment for Modi, he persuaded billionaire industrialist Ratan Tata in 2008 to move production of the Nano, billed as the world’s cheapest car, to the state. “He is good for business in India,” says Ron Somers, head of the U.S.-India Business Council, a Washington-based lobby group that represents major U.S. companies in India.

It is difficult to tell how much of the tens of billions of dollars pledged at the summits end up being invested, but the gatherings achieve one thing: “Vibrant Gujarat summits are basically media-focused events where the media can see Ratan Tata and the Ambanis,” with Modi, said a former strategist who has worked with the government on the summits.

At the same time, there is substance behind the glitz. Gujarat’s government has invested heavily in roads, ports, agriculture and power, creating visible signs of progress in contrast to other parts of India. Projects that can take months or even years to be cleared elsewhere are regularly approved in days or weeks in Gujarat.

A Legacy Questioned

Modi’s image is also helped by the missteps of the ruling Congress party. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh‘s national government has struggled through a series of corruption scandals. Economic growth is at a decade low.

But as Modi moves closer to becoming his party’s presumptive candidate for prime minister, his model of economic development is coming under greater scrutiny by both opponents and the Indian media.

The biggest criticism is that he is too pro-business and that poor and minority communities, especially Muslims, have been left behind.

“I don’t think the people of India can be fooled with the development plank of Modi or the model of Modi’s Gujarat,” said Shakeel Ahmad, chairman of the Islamic Relief Committee in Gujarat, sitting in his office in one of the poorer parts of Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city.

Veteran human rights activist Nafisa Barot believes “his pro-business policies have hurt poor people and among them most are Muslims” – and gave that message to EU officials recently.

India’s Planning Commission, which sets five-year economic plans for the country, has expressed concern about Gujarat’s performance on a number of social indicators, such as malnutrition, maternal mortality, access to health, education for girls and minorities, and water, and says the state should be doing a better job on these issues given the size of its economy.

“It appears that the high growth rate achieved … over the years has not percolated to the marginalised sections of society,” the Planning Commission said in its 2011 India Human Development Report.

Modi says he is tackling these issues. He has proposed spending 42 percent of his 2013/2014 state budget on education, nutrition, healthcare and other social welfare programmes – the Planning Commission says it would like him to spend even more – but complains that efforts to redress the imbalances are hampered by a lack of reliable data.

“We do believe in inclusive growth, we do believe that the benefits of this development must reach to the last person. We’re doing a good job, that’s why the expectations are high. As they should be. Nothing is wrong,” Modi told Reuters.

Modi will now take his mantra of good governance and development on the road to try to convince voters to vote his party into power nationally for the first time in 10 years. Pollsters expect a close election with regional parties likely to be king-makers. Even if the BJP wins the most votes it could struggle to find partners to form a coalition government, especially with Modi at its head.

The man himself dismisses the notion he is divisive.

“I’m not in favour of dividing Hindus and Sikhs. I’m not in favour of dividing Hindus and Christians. All the citizens, all the voters, are my countrymen,” Modi said. “Religion should not be an instrument in your democratic process.”

Expressing ‘pain’ for 2002 riots, how Modi is looking ahead to 2014 Part 2

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The son of a tea-stall owner, Modi’s journey into politics started young. As a teenager he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a voluntary right-wing group that serves both as the ideological incubator for “Hindutva”, a hardline brand of Hindu nationalism, and as the philosophical parent of the BJP. Early on Modi was a “pracharak” or propagandist, living a monkish life and evangelising from village to village to win new recruits. That experience taught him “your life should be disciplined,” he said, and that “what work you get, do it well.”

Modi joined the BJP in 1987. With a reputation as an efficient organiser he rose through the ranks, although his self-promotion and ambition earned him enemies along the way, according to various biographies.

Parimal Nathwani, group president in Gujarat of one of India’s biggest companies, Reliance Industries Limited, tells a story that captures Modi’s drive to succeed. In January 2001, nine months before Modi became chief minister, Gujarat was hit by one of the worst earthquakes in India’s recorded history. Modi, who was working at the BJP headquarters in Delhi, called Nathwani at Reliance to ask if he could borrow the company jet to fly to Kutch, the hardest-hit district.

Modi did not think Gujarat’s then-chief minister Keshubai Patel – who was also BJP but was Modi’s rival – would allow him on the official aircraft, Nathwani recalls. But “he wanted to be the first to reach Kutch, to see and analyse what had happened so that he could make a report for the party leadership in Delhi.” Nathwani lent him the jet – handing Modi a political victory over his nemesis.

Nearly four months after Modi’s swearing-in, Gujarat was hit by another earthquake. This one was man-made; the after-shocks can still be felt.

On February 27, 2002, a fire aboard a train in the eastern Gujarat district of Godhra killed 59 Hindu pilgrims. While there are still questions over how it started, police blamed the blaze on local Muslims. That triggered a wave of violence in which Hindu mobs attacked predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods. India is a Hindu-majority nation; some 138 million Muslims make up about 13 percent of the population according to the 2001 census, the latest available data on religious makeup.

The Indian government later put the death toll at more than 1,000; human rights activists estimate at least double that number died. Activists and relatives of the riot victims accused Modi and his government of giving Hindu rioters a free hand. New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a 2002 report entitled “We Have No Orders to Save You” that at best police had been “passive observers, and at worst they acted in concert with murderous mobs.”

In 2011, a Gujarati court convicted 31 Muslims for the initial attack on the train. Separately, gynaecologist Maya Kodnani, who Modi made a minister for woman and children in 2007, was sentenced to 28 years last August for handing out swords to rioters and exhorting them to attack Muslims. She is still serving her sentence.

Modi has always rebuffed demands for an apology. He insists that he did all that he could to stop the violence. “Up till now, we feel that we used our full strength to set out to do the right thing,” he said.

A special investigation team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the role of Modi and others in the violence said in a 541-page report in 2012 it could find no evidence to prosecute the chief minister. Most importantly, it cleared Modi of the most damaging allegation: that he had told senior officials to allow Hindu mobs to vent their anger.

“Everyone has their own view. I would feel guilty if I did something wrong,” Modi told Reuters. “Frustration comes when you think ‘I got caught. I was stealing and I got caught.’ That’s not my case. I was given a thoroughly clean chit.”

Asked if he regretted the violence, Modi compared his feelings to the occupant of a car involved in an accident. If “someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting behind, even then if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not? Of course it is. If I’m a chief minister or not, I’m a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad.”

At the lunch at the German ambassador’s house Modi was pointedly asked by the gathered diplomats for reassurance that the bloodshed of 2002 would not be repeated. For years after the riots, EU ambassadors in New Delhi had largely kept their distance from Modi, although the EU never formally ostracised him.

Britain, which has a large Gujarati population, did impose a formal diplomatic boycott on Modi for the deaths of three British citizens in the riots, but ended it last October. Washington maintains its ban, despite pressure from some Republican lawmakers in Congress. There has been no move at the US State Department to reconsider its 2005 decision to revoke Modi’s visa over the riots, a US official told Reuters. Indeed, a US government panel, the Commission on International Religious Freedom, recommended last May that Washington refuse any visa application from Modi.

There has not been “full transparency about (Modi’s) degree of involvement in the violence and his responsibility for that,” the commission’s chairwoman, Katrina Lantos Swett, told Reuters.

At the lunch, Modi occupied a central seat at a long, rectangular dining room table, with German ambassador Steiner sitting to one side. His reply to the question about the possibility of further riots: there has been no communal violence in Gujarat since 2002, unlike in other parts of India.

Marketing Modi

In the aftermath of the riots, Modi went to work improving his reputation.

“What he has done is change the narrative and go for (economic) development,” says Swapan Dasgupta, a New Delhi-based political analyst who has advised BJP leaders on media strategy. “From 2002 onwards he does not mention the riots any more. It does not come into his speeches. This focus on development was backed up by a very powerful publicity machine.”

Modi has built a reputation as an incorruptible and efficient technocrat who has electrified Gujarat’s 18,000 villages – the state is the only one in India with a near 24/7 power supply – and slashed red tape to attract companies like Ford, Maruti Suzuki and Tata Motors.

During Modi’s 10 years as chief minister, Gujarat has grown an average of 10 percent a year. The state ranked fifth out of 15 big states in 2010/2011 in terms of per capita income. Modi boasts it is the “engine of India’s economic growth.”

But opponents and some economists point out that Gujarat has a long tradition of entrepreneurship and that the state was doing well economically before Modi took charge. Other states, including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Delhi, attracted more foreign investment than Gujarat between 2009 and 2012, according to India’s central bank.

The difference is Modi and his sales pitch. Economic success is important, he seems to realise. But so is telling that story again and again. As chief minister, Modi has embraced modern technology like no other Indian leader. He is active on Facebook and YouTube and has 1.8 million followers on Twitter, though aides say that number will have to grow substantially for it to have any impact in an election. During his re-election campaign last December, Modi used 3-D projection technology to appear simultaneously at 53 events – a world record. He appears impeccably dressed, either in suits or stylish tailor-made kurtas, a knee-length Indian shirt, rimless glasses and a neatly trimmed white beard.

“In terms of brand recognition he has succeeded eminently. Today a whole lot of people in different parts of the country at least know his name,” said Abraham Koshy, professor of marketing at India’s top business management school, the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, who nevertheless questions whether Modi can turn that recognition into votes.

The Indian media and the ruling Congress party regularly claim that Modi has employed foreign help – in particular APCO Worldwide, one of the largest PR agencies in the United States – to help him rehabilitate his image and make him more acceptable to voters at home and governments abroad.

While politicians around the world use PR agencies, Modi’s political opponents hope to raise questions about Modi’s achievements, say analysts. Opponents are trying to tell voters “appearance is not reality, what you see is very different from the real Modi,” said Pralay Kanungo, a professor of politics and an expert on Hindu nationalism at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Modi’s government hired APCO in 2009 to promote Gujarat’s biannual business investment summits in India and abroad. But the Washington-based firm has repeatedly denied any involvement with Modi’s political campaigns. When asked to comment, APCO pointed to a statement they made earlier this year: “We do not work on Chief Minister Modi’s publicity campaign; we are not engaged to help resolve the (U.S.) visa issue.”

The man himself says he has no need for image makers. “I have never looked at or listened to or met a PR agency. Modi does not have a PR agency,” he said.

Modi says he rises at about 5 a.m. every day to do yoga and meditate. He reads the news for 15 minutes via Twitter on his iPad. He has not taken a holiday in 12 years, he said while walking Reuters around the garden outside his office.

Modi lives alone and has little contact with his mother, four brothers or sister.