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Modi myth dwarfs Vajpayee, Advani

BATTLEFIELD GUJARAT

Nistula Hebbar & Harit Mehta  |  Ahmedabad 

In every state BJP office, the campaign material shop stocks photographs of central leaders like former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, party President Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitely and Murli Manohar Joshi.
In Gujarat, however, these are absent. The hottest item here is the Narendra Modi mask.
Newspapers in Gujarat and some New Delhi papers carry full-page advertisements extolling the virtues of Modi. "In your heart you know he is right, stand by the man who fights for Gujarat," reads a tagline.
Again, no Vajpayee, no Advani and no Rajnath Singh.The allusion is simple: Modi is the BJP in Gujarat. This encapsulates a paradigm shift in the way the BJP's internal politics is now being run.
Legends are being disseminated among voters about the life of Modi. "As a young man, Modi had taken sanyas and went from house to house asking for bhiksha (alms), that is why he knows what the common man feels," says Chabil bhai Shah, a young student and a first-time voter in Bhuj. The old cadre-based approach has been replaced by myths and legends about one man.
The projection has its own problems. Modi's intolerance to being dictated to by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the RSS has meant that the cadre which the BJP depends on is not visible on the streets.
In Amreli, the stronghold of the anti-Modi group, the local BJP candidate's office is deserted and the Chak De group of the Gujarat Congress is more visible.
In a religious state like Gujarat, Modi has removed the VHP from his interactions with religious orders like the Swaminarayan group and Asaram Bapu. His problems with dissidents can be traced to this.
Senior BJP leaders admit that if Modi wins, the BJP may never be the same. "This is the first time a chief minister has overrun the popularity of the central leadership. Neither Uma Bharati nor Vasundhara Raje have even come close to this," said a leader.
"The BJP may then become like the Congress, where the popularity of a regional satrap may lead to intrigues at the Centre. If Modi wins, all those aspiring for a central role after Vajpayee had better watch out," added the leader.

First Published: Thu, December 06 2007. 00:00 IST
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