New Delhi: For months Narendra Modi's words in public seemed largely templated - they featured the Gujarat growth story, attacks on the Gandhis and the Prime Minister, and a few catchy asides. In the last week, the Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP's chief election strategist has added a decidedly hardline tone.
Senior BJP leaders reportedly worry that this is leading to an anti-Modi polarisation that will help the Congress in the months leading up to general elections. But Mr Modi has seemed unfazed by the avalanche of criticism that has come his way. He reportedly calculates that the sharp attacks against him will improve his position, both within his party and outside.
BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, who has cautioned the party against losing track of issues, admitted to NDTV: "Modi is the most popular leader not just in the BJP but in the country. He is an asset, the more our opponents attack Modi, the more it will help us." (Watch)
The string of controversial statements Mr Modi has made recently have seemed strategically designed to polarise the pro-Hindutva vote in the face of his rivals attempting to consolidate the minority vote against him with a communal vs secular debate.
Within weeks he has turned a multiparty political battle for 2014 into a Modi vs the rest contest.
Parties like the Congress, Left, SP, BSP and the Janata Dal (United), a BJP ally till last month, have slammed him first for his puppy analogy in an interview when asked about communal riots that lacerated his state in 2002 and then for accusing the Congress of hiding behind a "burqa of secularism." His opponents allege that the remarks are anti-Muslim.
Mr Modi has also controversially asserted that he is a Hindu nationalist; the recent comments seem aimed also at re-assuring the BJP's ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its more hardline affiliates, that the Hindutva agenda remains germane to the BJP's political strategy. Today, he will meet RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in Nagpur. (Read)
Many senior leaders in the BJP fear that the focus on Modi is obfuscating issues like corruption and scams that the party needs to continue highlighting to demonstrate what it calls the Congress-led UPA's failure in governance. Also, that a Mosi vs the rest situation could create an impression that the BJP is isolated ahead of the elections.