Thousands of people turned up on Saturday at the Gujarat University convention hall here, where Chief Minister Narendra Modi launched a three-day fast for “peace, unity and harmony,” to express their solidarity with the cause. In several parts of Gujarat, people organised “yagnas” and held prayer meetings for the success of Mr. Modi's exercise.

The Chief Minister began the fast in the presence of a battery of top leaders of the BJP and the alliance partners of the NDA, who showered praises on Mr. Modi's leadership in making Gujarat a role model for development not only for other States in the country, but also for the people in other countries. Among those present and praised Mr. Modi's “unparalleled leadership” were veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, the former BJP president, Rajnath Singh, and BJP leaders Kalraj Mishra and Ravi Shankar Prasad, besides Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Premkumar Dhumal. Two Ministers from Tamil Nadu also attended the gathering and conveyed to Mr. Modi the best wishes of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. The absence of the party's national president, Nitin Gadkari, was ascribed to his ill-health. Also present in the audience were Muslim leaders who all through kept shouting pro-Modi slogans.

Addressing the huge gathering, Mr. Modi said his “sadbhavana mission” was aimed at informing the world how the people of Gujarat changed the face of the State in an atmosphere of peace, unity and harmony. “Gujarat has adopted good governance as the model for development, and the next step forward is to spread the message of development for all across the country, free from conflict between different castes and communities,” he said.

Enumerating the problems Gujarat faced at the beginning of the 21st century, the time when he also took over the reins of the State, Mr. Modi said that after the devastating earthquake in 2001, the State witnessed the frenzy of communal violence the next year. He claimed that his government had handled the situation with “strength and strictness.” He regretted that people who were showering brickbats at him and the people of the State believed that he did not feel for the sufferings of riot victims. Claiming that he “suffered” more than the sufferings of every citizen of Gujarat, Mr. Modi said he was “representative of each and every one of the six-crore Gujaratis irrespective of their caste, creed, colour, culture and religion” and that his “entire time and energy is devoted to their development and welfare.” Though meant to be a sombre occasion to put the calamitous past behind and march forward for a period of renewed peace and unity, the occasion turned political with the BJP leadership using the opportunity to “makeover the image” of Mr. Modi and his “acceptability” among the minorities.

In protest, the Jansangharsh Manch, a voluntary organisation which represents the 2002 riot victims before the G.T. Nanavati-Akshay Mehta judicial inquiry commission, has planned to organise a “dharna” at Naroda-Patiya in Ahmedabad, the venue of one of the worst massacres in the riots, on Sunday and sign an “open letter” to Mr. Modi against his “sadbhavana mission.”

An hour earlier of Mr. Modi beginning fast, the former Union Minister and presently the chief of the Gujarat Congress election campaign committee, Shankarsinh Waghela, and the State party president, Arjun Modhvadia, began their counter-fast outside the Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram, about five kilometres from the Chief Minister's fasting venue, under a specially erected pandal. “We do not believe in any exercise which involves wasteful use of public money,” Mr Waghela said about the low-key affair.

While Mr. Modi spoke of how the country needed to emulate Gujarat which was now the cynosure of international eyes, Mr. Waghela sought to focus on local and regional issues of “corruption and maladministration of the Modi government.”

Mr. Advani said Gujarat under Mr. Modi was giving a shining example of the “most popular and responsive government wedded to the cause of the people.” While Mr. Advani said Mr. Modi had put Gujarat on a new height by initiating various welfare schemes, which needed to be emulated by other States, Mr. Jaitley compared the Modi administration with that of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre, “while one is totally corruption-free, the other one is knee-deep in corruption.”

Mr. Badal, Mr. Dhumal, and the representatives of the AIADMK government, Mr. Thambidurai and Dr. Maitreyan also praised the leadership of Mr. Modi.

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