Addressing his first public rally since 2010 in Bihar,where the JD(U) parted ways with the BJP over his projection as the prime ministerial candidate,Narendra Modi on Sunday publicly engaged with Muslims,saying poverty was their prime enemy and his developmental credentials were the best antidote to it.
I want to ask poor Muslim brothers whether they want to quarrel with poor Hindus or fight against poverty. I want to ask poor Hindus whether their concern is disputes with poor Muslims or the fight against poverty. A poor Hindu has to fight against poverty and a poor Muslim also has to fight against poverty. Lets defeat poverty together, Modi said at a massive ‘Hunkar rally’ at Patnas Gandhi Maidan.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar ensured as an ally that Modi didnt campaign for the BJP in Bihar,and attributed his decision to cut 17-year-old ties with the BJP to the Gujarat CMs perceived anti-Muslim image. In his rally Sunday,Modi asked Muslims to shun this secular-communal discourse.
He talked about the prosperity of Muslims in Gujarat to stress that only development could help fight poverty,regardless of communities. My Muslim brothers go to Haj,for which the Government of India fixes a quota for each state. The quota for Gujarat is around 4,800. While for Bihar it is over 7,000 (it is actually 11,000),only about 6,000 go to Haj from the state. Poor Muslims (in Bihar) do not have money,how can they go to Haj? In contrast,about 40,000 applications are received in Gujarat, Modi underlined.
Kutch and Bharuch (in Gujarat) have the highest proportion of Muslims applying. Kutch and Bharuch also have the fastest development (in the state), he added. Starting his speech in the local dialects of Bhojpuri and Maithili,Modi drew an enthusiastic response from the huge crowd. Despite the blasts in and around the rally site,most of the people stayed back.
While Modi addressed Muslims towards the fag end of the speech lasting nearly an hour,his direct address to my Muslim brothers is a departure for the Hindutva posterboy of the BJP,which has always slammed selective pandering to Muslims as pseudo-secularism.
Accused of not following the raj dharma during the 2002 Gujarat riots,Modi reiterated Sunday that Constitution was the lone holy book for him as an administrator.
Moving on to Nitish,Modi said that while Bihar had given several railway ministers,he was the one who started as a tea vendor on trains and thus was in a better position to know the travails of the common man.
People of Bihar are not opportunists,except few, he added,in an obvious reference to Nitish.
My friend the Chief Minister (Nitish) and I were once sharing a table with the Prime Minister for a meal. He (Nitish) was reluctant to have the meal and was stalling for time. I had to tell him that there was no need to worry as there were no cameras around. There are limits to hypocrisy, Modi said.
He reminded the people of the BJPs role in installing Nitish as CM and pointed out that the latter had objected to him campaigning for the BJP in the 2010 Assembly elections.
For the BJP,the country takes precedence over party. That is why despite the BJP having more MLAs (than the JD-U in 2005) we made him (Nitish) the CM to free Bihar from jungle raj,at the expense of the genuine claim of Sushil Modi, Modi said.
Several Bihar leaders requested me to campaign in the state,but I told Sushil Modi and Nand Kishore Yadav not to press for it because the BJPs focus is to keep jungle raj away,even if that entails the humiliation of Modi.
Accusing Nitish of breaking this trust,Modi went on: Nitish Kumars intentions were not good. His lackeys suggested to him that he could become the PM if he aligned with the Congress. And he began dreaming… He has not betrayed the BJP but the entire electorate of Bihar.
Similarly,Modi added,Nitish had betrayed the legacy of Ram Manohar Lohia and Jayarakash Narayan. A person who has discarded JP will also split with the BJP. While Lohia fought against the Congress till his last breath,Lohias follower has stabbed him in the back and is now playing hide and seek with the Congress.
Are you ready to punish the person who has betrayed you? Modi asked the crowd,to a loud yes as response.
In his only mention of Rahul Gandhi,Modi took on the Congresss criticism of him calling the party vice-president shehzada (prince). Congress leaders are distressed that Rahul is being called shehzada. They cant sleep at night. Lekin main poochta hoon ki shehzada kehne ki naubat kyun aai (But I want to know why it came to such a pass?), he said.
He would stop calling the Rahul shehzada if the Congress promised to do away with dynastic rule,Modi added.
The Gujarat CM also sought to woo the Yadavs,who are widely considered a vote bank of Nitishs rival Lalu Prasad. Lalu Prasad has been in the habit of pillorying me. But about three months ago,when Rudy (BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy) informed me that he was unwell,I enquired about his health. I did not even make it public. It was Lalu Prasad who made it public, Modi said,adding that political divide should not deter people from extending public courtesies to each other.
He also took a dig at Nitish over this. The Bihar CM had in 2010 cancelled a dinner that he was hosting for senior BJP leaders attending the BJP national executive in Patna,following an advertisement featuring Modi and him.
Without referring to that dinner,Modi reminded Nitish of the warm hospitality he had once extended to the latter during his Gujarat trip,with khaman and dhokla. There are certain values in public life, the BJP PM candidate said.
Calling Yadavs Yaduvanshi,he reminded them of Gujarats relations with them. The King of Yaduvansh (Lord Krishna) settled in Gujarats Dwarka. So I have relations with Yaduvansh and if something happens (to Yaduvanshis),I will have concern, Modi said in an apparent reference to their fear of loss of leadership in the backdrop of Lalus conviction in the fodder scam.
In another attempt to connect with the people of the state,he referred to the coming Chhath Puja and said: Bihar is the land where both the rising and setting sun are worshipped.
On the special status for Bihar that Nitish is pursuing,Modi said: The Bihar BJP has asked for a Rs 50,000-crore package for Bihar. Just wait for 200 more days,we will get that or even more.