Days after taking centre stage at a key BJP meet where he received a hero’s welcome and days after the prestigious Wharton India Economic Forum cancelled his keynote address, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi used another U.S. platform to delineate his campaign theme for the 2014 Lok Sabha battle, terming it “India First.”
Mr. Modi said he had a simple definition of secularism: “‘India First’. Whatever you do, wherever you work, India should be the top priority for all its citizens.”
In an attempt to work the Gujarat kind of rhetoric where he effectively insisted that he toiled for “five-crore Gujaratis” irrespective of religion or caste, he spoke of “India First” at a video conference of the Indian-American community organised by the Overseas Friends of BJP.
In one stroke, he reminded the audience of his third consecutive electoral victory, without mentioning the Godhra riots under his rule in 2002. “When we get a mandate of five years, we must work on that and serve people selflessly. If we do that then people will forgive our mistakes as well.”
“The country is above all religions and ideologies,” he said and exhorted people to follow the same.
About his “India First” refrain, that observers believe will be developed into a full-fledged 2014 poll campaign theme, he said, “I agree, friends, that as an Indian, as a citizen who loves India, you will also agree with my definition... We might do any work or take any decision, India should be supreme.”
“Nothing less than India’s well-being should be our goal. And if this happens, secularism will automatically run in our blood,” Mr. Modi said in an hour-long speech in Hindi, the language he is most comfortable with after Gujarati.
The Gujarat Chief Minister was denied a U.S. visa on the issue of human rights violation. And last week, the Wharton India Economic Forum cancelled his keynote address to the prestigious annual event because of opposition from a section of professors and students of the University of Pennsylvania. However, at this video conference he glossed over the Wharton issue.
According to news wires, several hundred people gathered at two places — Edison in New Jersey and Chicago — to listen to his speech.
In his address, Mr. Modi emphasised on skill development of the youth — who now constitute 65 per cent of the total population of the country — and asked the diaspora to help in holistic development of India — tourism being one of them.
Calling Gujarat as the “ray of hope in this period of gloom and darkness” in India because of his development model, the prime ministerial aspirant of the BJP said the Central government allotted less money than Gujarat for youth’s skill development.
He said he did not want to criticise any government but was just presenting the facts and added, “This shows the priorities of the two governments.”
“Development is the real path that will lead our nation out of the era of darkness. It was believed that elections can’t be won in the name of development. But the people of Gujarat have shown that this is possible.”