Amid the chanting of ‘Vedic slokas' and in the presence of top leaders of the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi began his three-day fast here on Saturday, launching the “Sadbhavana Mission,” which, he declared, would spell doom for the “destructive politics of vote bank” in the entire country and usher in a new era of peace, unity and harmony.
Coming down heavily on his critics, who accused him and his government of “having a hand in the 2002 communal riots,” Mr. Modi said that for 10 years he and Gujarat people remained quiet on the charges, waiting for the appropriate authorities to reply. “For 10 years, we did not hit back, but collected all the stones and brickbats thrown at us and used them as the stepping stone to take Gujarat to the new heights of development.”
Before coming to the plush centrally air-conditioned venue of his fast, the sprawling convention-cum-exhibition hall of Gujarat University, Mr. Modi called on his mother, who lives with his younger brother in Ahmedabad, to seek her blessings on the occasion of his 62nd birthday.
During his address to the gathering, Mr. Modi, however, sought to de-link the fast with his birthday. “I decided the date considering the weekend for the convenience of all, my birthday is just a co-incidence,” he claimed.
A few kilometres away from the venue, Congress leaders — the former Chief Minister, Shankarsinh Waghela, and Gujarat Congress president Arjun Modhvadia — launched a parallel counter-fast outside the Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram to draw the people's attention to what they called “the deceitful, corrupt and anti-people governance of Mr. Modi.”
Simple and sombre
Compared to the elaborate arrangements made for Mr. Modi's fast, the Congress camp, under a huge pandal, shorn of any security and the absence of anyone from the high command, was simple and sombre. The Congress leaders, however, maintained that they were holding the fast, which they termed “Satyagraha Upavaas” (fast) as “citizens of Gujarat,” but as was done by Mr. Modi, arrangements were being made to bring Congress workers from all over the State to the venue during the three-day fast.
A group of cow-breeders under the Maldhari Ekta Samiti, who were protesting against the Gujarat government's “failure to stop cow slaughter,” also began a three-day fast and called on the fasting Congress leaders.
Noted danseuse and social activist Mallika Sarabhai, in contrast, arranged for “feeding” poor slum children to demonstrate her “disgust” at the “political gimmickry” of Mr. Modi.
Jagruti Pandya, wife of the slain former Minister of State for Home, Haren Pandya, who had threatened to appear on the dais with Mr. Modi to “remind” the Chief Minister of his “failure” to show “sadbhavana” (goodwill) towards the family of his former colleague, was persuaded against any such step by senior BJP leaders.