An ambitious pracharak

Published : Jan 03, 2003 00:00 IST

DURING the communal riots, a joke doing the rounds was that the only bearded man who was safe in Gujarat was Narendra Modi. Since then, Modi has created personality cult around himself. The 52-year-old Chief Minister has fashioned himself as a Hindutva hero, a saviour of Hindus. Hardline Hindutva is now in vogue, all thanks to the ex-Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) pracharak.

Modi started from humble beginnings, in Vadnagar town, Mehsana, north Gujarat. He left Vadnagar to study political science in Gujarat University, Ahmedabad. As a student, Modi worked at his brother's canteen in the city. He got involved in student politics and became an active member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Sangh Parivar. He got married to Jashodaben, but they separated soon afterwards. Jashodaben is now a primary school teacher in a village near Vadnagar.

Later, Modi joined the RSS, where he rose high and soon became a pracharak. He lived and worked for several years at the RSS headquarters in Maninagar, which is now his constituency. In 1972, he became a leader of the Gujarat Lok Sangharsh Samiti, which was initiated by Jayaprakash Narayan and was part of the anti-corruption Navnirman Andolan. He took part in the anti-Emergency movement in 1975.

Later, Modi's mentors in the RSS sent him to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Ironically, in 1985, Modi, who was a general secretary of the party, worked with Shankarsinh Vaghela, who was the president of the Gujarat State unit of the BJP. Modi was never a mass leader; he was involved with strategy and campaign planning, while Vaghela built the BJP's grassroot cadre.

After Keshubhai Patel was made Chief Minister in 1995, he ensured Modi's swift transfer out of Gujarat, sensing that the ambitious Modi could create trouble. Modi left for New Delhi to work at the all-India level. He was given responsibility of the State units of Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. "Whichever State he has gone to, he has created dissidence within the party and within the coalition government. Wherever he has gone, State units have asked for his removal," says a BJP insider.

In what was a bolt out of the blue for Keshubhai Patel, seen as a non-performer, Modi was sent back to Gujarat as Chief Minister in October 2001. After the 1998 Assembly elections, the BJP had lost all successive elections, and in 2000, the party suffered a rout; it lost 21 of 23 seats in the panchayat elections. Later, it lost two Assembly byelections, including the Sabarmati seat, which falls under L.K. Advani's parliamentary constituency, Gandhinagar. Fearing a similar disaster in the Assembly elections, the central leadership decided to send Advani's man to Gujarat. A known hardliner, Modi had never contested an election before. He was elected from Rajkot-II constituency with a margin of 14,000 votes, much smaller than the BJP's previous 28,000-vote lead.

Known for being arrogant and egoistic, Modi upset several MLAs in Gujarat in the short period in which he was Chief Minister. He insisted on the resignation of former Home Minister Haren Pandya, known to be close to Keshubhai Patel. During the election campaign, he threatened not to file his nomination papers if Pandya was allotted the ticket to contest.

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