'An endorsement of BJP policies'

Published : Jan 03, 2003 00:00 IST

Interview with Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Kamal ne kamaal kiya hai (the lotus has blossomed), said Narendra Modi as hundreds of his party workers cheered. But at the precise moment when the Hindu Right was celebrating what it believes to be an historic, even epic, victory, Modi himself was uncharacteristically subdued. Leaving behind the harsh polemic deployed during the election campaign, he studiously avoided Hindu nationalist triumphalism. At his first press conference after the party's victory, Modi pointedly thanked his adversaries in the liberal media for "placing the elections and Gujarat on the world stage". He asked his supporters to celebrate the victory in "the spirit of brotherhood and camaraderie", and even reminded his defeated opponents that "political life has no full-stops".

It is unclear just why Hindutva's best-known mascot chose not to bare his fangs, but it seems probable that Modi acted from an understanding of the BJP's wider national interests. Gujarat's Chief Minister, it would appear, has political ambitions that transcend the State. Shortly after the press conference, he spoke to Praveen Swami. Excerpts:

A few days ago, Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia had said this election would see a decisive rejection of the ideology of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Do you share this perception? Is this what has happened in Gujarat?

I am not familiar with what Togadia said or did not say. But I will say this. For the first time, the Congress was unable to place Nehru at the centre of its election campaign. They had to campaign using the image of Sardar Patel, a leader they had for long discarded.

Do you see this victory as a triumph for Hindutva?

That is for political pundits to decide. I am sure that there will be a lot of analysis of the reasons for our victory. Some people who cannot digest our victory, I am also sure, will find all sorts of reasons to trivialise it. But the fact is this is an unequivocal endorsement of the BJP 's national and State-level policies and agenda. It is a victory for the people of Gujarat.

So you say this is not a victory for Hindutva?

No, I am not saying that. I am saying this is for political pundits to decide. Put any colour on it you like.

The fact is that the BJP campaign focussed on Hindutva. One of the slogans used was "Jo Hindu dharm ka kaam karega, wohi is desh me raj karega" (only those who work for the Hindu faith will rule in this country).

I don't know through what filters you have heard what was said in the campaign. Nothing in a campaign is hidden from the public; everything is out in the open. The Election Commission's observers were there, and so were the media. The fact is we said many things. You only seem to have heard those you wished to hear.

How do you think the State's Muslims will react to the Bharatiya Janata Party's victory?

I have always spoken about the State's five crore people as one.

This election result is a stinging answer to those who have sought to divide Gujarat's people along caste and religious lines. No matter who you work for, or what you believe, you have no business to divide the people. Bhagwan ke naam, Khuda ke naam (in the name of God), stop doing this.

What will your agenda for Gujarat now be? Do you have a road map for governance?

The party will answer this question after the new legislators take office and elect the Chief Minister. It is not for me to speak on this just now.

Finally, there is a great deal of speculation that you will now move to the centre stage of national politics, to New Delhi.

I have no ambitions to be a national leader. I did not even aspire to be the Chief Minister. I have always worked in the interests of my party, and will continue to do so. The people closest to my heart are the five crore people of Gujarat.

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