Ahmedabad: Narendra Modi has broken his three-day sadbhavana fast - he accepted a glass of juice with much ceremony from a lot of smiling politicians and saffron-clad priests.
As the fast ended, more accolades came rolling. Top BJP leaders gathered to mark the end of the Gujarat Chief Minister's grand show and the leit motif of their words was - Gujarat Shining as a result of Modi's inclusive development programme. And from Venkaiah Naidu, the clearest endorsement yet of Modi for a bigger national role.
Mr Naidu, a former party president, said, "There is no leader to equal Modi in all of India. We ask the Congress, we have Modi, who do you have? People ask if Modi is PM material. Where is the doubt? Mr Modi should get ready to serve the nation."
And Sushma Swaraj had a story to share. At a recent meeting of the national integration council, she said, "Mehbooba Mufti, the leader of the PDP, a party opposed to the BJP, said that a Muslim friend of hers wanted to invest in Gujarat and was astonished to be quickly granted an appointment, and that when he did meet Mr Modi, had a decision in half an hour."
"You can accuse an Advani or a Sushma of bias when they praise Modi. But this was Mehbooba Mufti," Ms Swaraj said, adding that Modi was the sort of leader who braved heat and dust to reach the smallest villages to ask if little girls were being sent to school. "His development plans do not seek out Hindu or Muslim...Development does not discriminate, it favours everyone," she said.
As on the last two days, the Gujarat University Convention Hall where Mr Modi is fasting saw big crowds and political celebrity today. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray was there and gave a thumbs up to the Gujarat CM as a potential Prime Minister. Top BJP leader Sushma Swaraj is there with Mr Modi as he breaks his fast. A pantheon of BJP leaders and those of some allied parties have shared stage with Modi who began his fast on Saturday, which was also his 61st birthday.(See pics)
Some allies have been conspicuous by their absence. Particularly the JD (U), which has questioned his national acceptability. "Modi has failed to discharge Rajdharma in Gujarat...when he can't do justice with five crore people of a state, how will he be able to deliver justice to 125 crore of the country?" PTI quoted JD(U) spokesperson Shivanand Tiwari as saying. Mr Tiwari said, "There is still a sense of fear and insecurity among the people in Gujarat," and also that he found "the body language of Modi during his speech in Hindi after beginning his fast full of arrogance." (Read)
At first there was only diplomatic silence from Nitish Kumar, the man the JD(U) sees as the rightful aspirant for the job that many say Mr Modi has set out to get with his attempt at an image makeover - the Prime Minister's post at the head of an NDA government. And when he spoke, it was only to say, "Our alliance with the BJP is limited to Bihar and Jharkhand...we have no alliance in Gujarat". The message was between the lines - Mr Kumar was predictably distancing himself from Mr Modi.
Others have been less circumspect in their criticism of Mr Modi over the weekend as he launched the grand show in an overt effort to gain wider political acceptance to prepare for the national stage. The Congress has called his fast a "drama" and six km away from his air-conditioned venue, Congress veteran Shankarsinh Vaghela sniggered and wanted to know why the Gujarat Chief Minister would not fast for a full 72 hours to make it a three-day fast as he had promised. Mr Vaghela, who is on a counter-fast at the Gandhi Ashram - one that pointedly began an hour before Mr Modi's did on Saturday - will break his fast at 10 am on Tuesday.
Gujarat riot victims have slammed the fast as a spectacle to whitewash Mr Modi's image. Sunday, Day 2 of his fast, saw much action with the police detaining riot victims and activists Mallika Sarabhai and Mukul Sinha in Naroda Patiya as they protested against the CM's fast. Naroda Patiya, about 8 km from the fast site, had witnessed the worst riots incident in 2002, when more than 90 people were killed.
The BJP's quick defence in spokesperson Prakash Javadekar's words: "There is a gang that is defaming Gujarat for the last one decade and they are doing it for their own political purpose, but they are getting defeated everywhere. People are coming so it is not just one person (Vastanvi) who is speaking the truth about the people of Gujarat. It is about thousands of Muslims who are doing it and participating in it. It's for a political purpose and a mischievous campaign and just to disturb and distort for which the police has to take a call."
The 2002 Gujarat riots remain the one big blemish on Mr Modi's career, and with his amity mission, fast to promote communal harmony and open letters to the people of his state, many say the Gujarat Chief Minister's attempt for sadbhavna is a careful image-altering exercise as he gets set for the national stage in the next Lok Sabha elections.
Mr Modi reached out to a fair sprinkling of Muslims at his fast and spoke of inclusive plans. But his critics also point to when he refused to put on a "skull cap" offered by a Muslim
cleric. The CM politely refused to wear it, asking him to offer a shawl instead. The cleric took offence, but the BJP dismisses it as a non-issue.
Venkaiah Naidu's endorsement notwithstanding, Mr Modi's attempt at emerging as the first among equals in the BJP needs acceptance across the political spectrum. Though the Akali Dal and the AIADMK backed Modi's fast, he faces stiff competition for the top job from ally JD(U) which doesn't back him as Nitish Kumar is a claimant for the same job.
The fast was the result of a defining last week for the Gujarat Chief Minister. The Supreme Court transferred a Gujarat-riots-related case to a lower court in the state and Narendra Modi tweeted, "God is Great". Suddenly, from a US think tank to BJP patriarch LK Advani, there was talk about Narendra Modi, possible future Prime Minister. (Read: Narendra Modi tweets 'God is great'; Supreme Court won't monitor Gulbarg Society case)
The three-day fast is all about Modi. He is the actor, director and script writer of the show. There are no BJP flags, no hoardings with smiling faces of Vajpayee, Advani and Gadkari. It signals that there is room for just one leader at the top in the party. Modi has taken the head start saying two is a crowd.