Once again Moditva reigns in Gujarat

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Ahmedabad, Dec 23: For Narendra Damodardas Modi, the mascot of the Hindutva ideology and the master strategist of Gujarat politics, this sweeping electoral victory in the state assembly polls comes with an extra bit of sweetener.

In an election that was fought with 'Moditva' taking centrestage, Modi not only managed to fend off the challenge of a resurgent Congress but also thwarted the designs of a section of his own partymen, who had tried to queer the pitch for him by hobnobbing with the rival party.

Even the anti-incumbency factor, that the Congress had thought to capitalise on could not hold out against him.

Riding on the crest of a vibrant economy and 'Gujarati pride' in a make or mar election, Modi who is perceived as the BJP's man for the future, tried to remove the blemish of the 2002 communal violence by projecting himself as the harbinger of development.

The election results will not only strengthen the iconic status of Modi, but will also have reverberations across the political spectrum at the national level.

Known for his ability to convert challenges into opportunities, Modi turned his description as 'maut ka saudagar' (merchant of death) by Congress President Sonia Gandhi into the Hindutva battlecry and struck an emotive chord with the electorate in the polarised state.

Playing to the gallery, he even went to the extent of justifying the Sohrabuddin encounter, though he later denied it when slapped with an Election Commission notice.

But he deftly brought the Hindutva card into play by questioning the UPA government's motive behind the delay in the execution of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.

His bete noires, two former Chief Ministers Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta, may have tried their best to make things difficult for him, but Modi managed to hold his own, basking in his persona of 'a man of development' and messiah for the 5.5 crore Gujaratis.

Even the 15 BJP dissident leaders, including Dhiru Gajera of Surat, who jumped into the electoral fray on a Congress ticket, failed to make any significant dent on his party's prospects.

Putting its weight behind Modi, the BJP high command cracked the whip against dissident leaders including Keshubhai Patel, Kanshiram Rana and Vallabhbhai Kathiria, even before the results were out.

Born on September 17, 1950 in Vadnagar town of North Gujarat to a middle-class family, Modi has four brothers -- Amritbhai, Prahladbhai, Pankajbhai, Somabhai and a sister Vasantiben. Completing his Masters degree in Political Science from Gujarat University with first division and authoring three books, apart from numerous articles, he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the early 1970s as a youth worker.

The laptop savvy Modi, whose persona blends modern technology well with hardline saffron politics, is known for his penchant for expensive clothes and designer accessories. However, many locals remember him as a teenager helping his brother at a tea shop at the inter-state bus stand (Sarangpur bus stand) in Ahmedabad.

Modi took active part in the anti-corruption 'Nav Nirman' movement in the early 1970s in Gujarat. As a Sangh pracharak, he travelled extensively across the world. Joining the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1987, within a year, he was elevated to the level of General Secretary of the Gujarat unit of the party. During the Ram Mandir movement, he emerged as a hardcore Hindutva leader, being incharge of both the Somnath to Ayodhya Rath Yatra of then party chief Lal Krishna Advani in 1990 as well as the Kanyakumari to Kashmir Rath Yatra of Dr Murli Manohar Joshi in 1992.

In 1995, he was made the National Secretary of the party in-charge of five major states, and made General Secretary (Organisation) in 1998, a post he held till taking over in Gujarat three years later.

In October 2001, he was asked by the party to take the reins of the government in earthquake-ravaged Gujarat from Keshubhai Patel who was facing a lot of flak for his inept handling of the rehabilitation measures.

Deft at turning an adversity into an opportunity, Modi, who is popularly known as Chhote Sardar, donned the role of an administrator with elan and embarked upon a massive cost-cutting exercise to compensate for the economic losses. His first priority was to go ahead with the reconstruction of the quake-devastated areas.

Before his arrival to power, the economy was shrinking and domestic growth was stagnant. During his first administration, Gujarat registered a GDP growth rate of over 10 per cent, the highest growth rate among all Indian states.

However, the widespread communal violence in 2002 following the torching of a railway compartment at Godhra railway station, burning alive 58 kar sewaks in February, sent shock waves throughout the nation with the Modi administration being assailed for alleged mismanagement of or complicity in the riots.

There were strident calls for Modi to resign, with opposition parties stalling Parliament over the issue. Even allies of the BJP like DMK and TDP asked for Modi's resignation. Modi did submit his resignation to the Governor and recommended the dissolution of the 10th Gujarat Legislative Assembly. In the subsequent elections in end 2002, Modi led his party to a landslide victory, winning 126 of the 182 seats.

However, he was assailed by human rights organisations for his role and a major fallout was the United States government's denial of a visa to him in 2003, holding him responsible for ''severe violations of religious freedom.'' This was protested by the Indian government which condemned the decision, while the Congress-led Opposition also endorsed the protest.

Credited with launching various developmental programmes like the Sujalam Suphalam and Jyotir Gram yojana, Modi also worked hard on bringing investments into his state through the 'Vibrant Gujarat' summit initiatives and his trips to countries like China and Singapore.

He was also responsible for reducing the fiscal deficit of the state exchequer by as much as 50 per cent and reducing the losses of the Gujarat State Electricity Board, while increasing the availability of electricity in many rural parts of the state. One of the most significant achievements of his government has been successful raising of the height of the Narmada Dam from 95 to 110.64 metres, which resulted in increased irrigation, water supplies and hydroelectric power, despite widespread protests from environment groups.

The state government also tackled the issue of nutrition in schools by fortifying much of the food with folic acid, and also adding vitamins A and D in vegetable oils and iron in wheat flour, thus helping to bring down the rates of anaemia and night blindness among children.

Women have also benefited under the Modi regime, with a number of programmes for them, including the further education for girls, such as the Vidyalakshmi bond programme, which pays for a girl's education until age 7, the Vidyadeep programme, which provides insurance for female students, and a philanthropic fund to offer financial support for families of female students Widely regarded as among the front-runner BJP next generation leaders by many in the state, he is considered a protege of Mr Advani, now the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate. Mr Advani has been lavish in his praise of Modi, once referring to him as ''a leader who, after being subjected to a malicious and prolonged campaign of vilification, has been able to impress even his critics with his determination, single-minded focus, integrity and a wide array of achievements in a relatively short time.''

UNI

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