In Assam, Narendra Modi describes how Congress 'betrayed' it

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Narendra Modi at his rally in Guwahati

Guwahati:  BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi chose his words carefully as he set out to strike the right chord at his maiden rally in Guwahati.

Chants of "Joi Aai Axom" (May our motherland Assam be victorious) filled the Khanapara ground, barely a few kilometers from the capital Dispur, as an encore to Mr Modi. "Gopinath Bordoloi along with Sardar Patel saved Assam from going into East Pakistan. But the Congress serves only one family. When they don't remember Sardar Patel, how can they remember Bordoloi?"asked Mr Modi.

Gopinath Bordoloi was the first Congress chief minister of Assam post-independence. But his legacy was to keep Assam united in times of partition, especially when parts of Assam were to merge with East Pakistan, erstwhile East Bengal.

One of Bordoloi's sons is a current Congress MLA but much like Sardar Patel, in Assam, Gopinath Bordoloi towers above his party. "Gopinath Bordoloiji deserved a Bharat Ratna much earlier but it was the Vajpayee government that corrected the injustice," declared Mr Modi.

But it wasn't just Mr Bordoloi that the BJP's PM candidate remembered. From Lakshminath Bezbaruah, the most renowned Assamese literateur to Bhupen Hazarika, the balladeer from Bramhaputra, the BJP leader named every icon Assam revered.

And the reference to Mr Bordoloi getting a Bharat Ratna during NDA period was significant. Many in Assam believed that Bhupen Hazarika deserved a Bharat Ratna but the Centre has so far ignored the demands.

Mr Modi also appeared to make a careful attempt to merge sub-national aspiration with national pride. "In my childhood, I used to boil Assam's tea leaves, make tea and energize people," he said in an obvious reference to his past of being a tea seller.

The Gujarat Chief Minister also questioned the contribution of Dr Manmohan Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP, to the state. "Give me 60 months and I promise I will change your lot. I don't think there has been a bigger rally than this and you have given me so much love, I promise I will return with interest," said Mr Modi. (Read)

He also promised development, jobs but didn't forget to raise the politically emotive issue of land transfer to Bangladesh and the issue of illegal immigrants from across the border.

"The Congress leadership thinks of the country as their personal property. Did they ask you before they agreed to give away your land?" he asked, adding, "Assam Accord was signed during the Rajiv Gandhi period but nothing has been done to identify illegal immigrants and send them across."

Mr Modi also quoted Vajpayee, saying, "You can't change geography but you can change history. If you have conviction, your neighbours will accept you the way, you are."

As Mr Modi ended his almost 40-minute speech with the slogan that was the leitmotif of Assamese sub-nationalism and the student movement of the 70s, it was clear BJP was seeking to change its own history in the state that has seen successive Congress governments since 2001.

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