Sunday, August 11, 2013

Narendra Modi talks Telangana, TDP alliance in Hyderabad - Firstpost

The sight of a jam packed Lal Bahadur stadium in Hyderbarad must have been very enthusing for Narendra Modi and the Andhra Pradesh unit of the BJP.

After all, the main opposition party's campaign committee chief was testing his popularity in a state where the BJP's presence is at best marginal. The size and response of the gathered crowd was particularly important because he was experimenting with a new idea of charging Rs 5 from members of his live audience, a first for any Indian political leader. As the event unfolded through Sunday afternoon and evening, his supporters could safely claim that he further cemented his position as the face of the BJP campaign.

To close his speech Modi took a cue from Barack Obama's "Yes, We Can" which he made the crowd repeat in unison after him. The social and political equations in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, especially if created before the next parliamentary elections, do not augur well for the BJP to rout the Congress in that region, but in an era of live telecast, Modi could well be looking at other parts of the nation.

Modi's speech was particularly significant in three aspects; he used it to reach out to both pre and post poll allies, mend his fences with senior leader and one time mentor LK Advani, and challenge the ruling Congress on "inclusive growth".

A section of the crowd in Hyderabad: PTI

A section of the crowd in Hyderabad: PTI

Though it is highly unusual that an offer for an alliance is made through a public rally, Modi did precisely that.

Invoking the memory of NT Rama Rao in a land where the late Telgu Desham Party (TDP) leader is still considered a hero by many, Modi sought to reach out to current party chief Chandrababu Naidu to take the initiative to form a broader anti-Congress Front. "Those who are at the helm in TDP and bear the legacy of NTR have a responsibility to fulfill that they must do whatever they can to oust Congress from power", he said.

The TDP had supported the NDA government from outside for six years, contested elections in Andhra in alliance with the BJP in 1999 and even went for simultaneous polls for the Andhra assembly and Parliament when the BJP went for early polls in April-May 2004. It was however, opposed to Modi's continuance as chief minister of Gujarat in the aftermath of the 2002 riots. The TDP and BJP fell out in 2004. It has since kept its distance from the BJP fearing a backlash from its Muslim electorate.

It would be interesting how the party reacts to Modi's overtures. The Gujarat chief minister perhaps went through this unorthodox method of engaging with Chandrababu Naidu, possibly because he and his party colleagues do not have the luxury of having a face to face dialogue with him in private. "Some may come today, some may come tomorrow", he said, adding the nation has made up its mind to overthrow a corrupt Congress regime.

Modi also praised Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa with whom he shares a good rapport.

In another significant overture, Modi also talked about LK Advani, and his move of carrying out a Yatra against corruption and back money.

The message was not lost on other party leaders. Modi has lately covered a lot of ground in building his bridges with Advani.  Also, he needs Advani's nod before he can be officially announced as the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate. In this context it was also interesting that he lauded Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, a known Advani protégée, and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh for their good work on the Ladli Laxmi Yojna (scheme for girl child) and food security programmes, respectively.

His decision to speak of inclusiveness and the Congress's ploy to keep the people divided in Hyderabad which has a significant Muslim population, had a great deal of symbolic importance. "Today they talk much of a term inclusive growth. Where was this term till a few years ago. It did not exist anywhere in the Planning Commission plan and any such other paper. Why are they talking about it today. This is because what Congress did for last 60 years was not inclusive it only worked to exclude sections of society." By taking a counter offensive strategy, Modi was not just taking the ball into Congress's court but was also responding to the criticism from ally turned foe, JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar.

The creation of Telangana and the death of five Indian soldiers along the Line of Control also figured prominently in Modi's speech. While he treaded a cautious path in relation to Telangana, he went after the Congress led government over the death of the soldiers.

"When Pakistan had beheaded two of our soldiers the Prime Minister had said business can't be as usual with Pakistan. How do we believe him and who do we believe. Now Pakistan has killed five of our soldiers but a country of 125 crore is made to silently bear the brunt of Pakistani atrocities."

He also slammed the government's foreign policy strategy, bringing up issues like illegal immigration from Bangladesh and intrusion by China into Indian territory, blaming it all on a weak "Delhi Sultanate" and a foreign minister who served biryani to the Pakistan PM in the immediate aftermath of the beheading of two Indian jawans in the name of 'following protocol".

This time Modi did not use a word that could give his critics and Congress to immediately pick on to suggest communal overtones. He, however, was clear in his message that he was already in poll campaign mode and would only step up his aggression against Congress as elections draw closer.
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