From the moment he was anointed the head of the campaign committee of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi seemed intent on drawing all attention to his own self. With his work area extended beyond Gujarat to the national stage, Mr. Modi evidently longs to be recognised as the face of the opposition to the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre. It was no surprise, then, that he used his Independence Day speech in Bhuj to launch a frontal attack on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Regrettably, the unfurling of the national flag was turned into an occasion to pursue partisan politics as Mr. Modi sought “freedom” from rulers with a “slave mentality”and blamed Dr. Singh for not being “tough” on Pakistan. While the Congress leaves Modi-bashing to second-rung leaders like Digvijay Singh, Mr. Modi tirelessly picks on those he wants to rival, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. In his new role as prime ministerial challenger, Mr. Modi is entitled to hit out at the enemy whenever he gets an opportunity but he should remain within the bounds of propriety. An Independence Day function led by an elected official is not a party rally. Even within the BJP, L.K. Advani was inclined to take a jibe at Mr. Modi by pointing out that Dr. Singh’s speech did not criticise anyone. The veteran leader knew that such excesses of rhetoric on a day that belongs to all Indians regardless of their ascriptive or political identities will not win the party any new friends.
Ironically, less than a week ago, while addressing a public meeting in Hyderabad, Mr. Modi appeared to accept the fact that the BJP needed to woo new allies and influence more people before the next general election. That is why he actively wooed the Telugu Desam Party and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. This was tacit admission that while his brand of aggressive Hindutva could serve to excite the traditional voters of the BJP, he would still have to find allies in the south and broaden the National Democratic Alliance if his prime ministerial ambitions were to have any meaning at all. The overtures to the TDP and the AIADMK, both former allies of the BJP, were especially significant as he was the person responsible for the exit of the Janata Dal (United) from the NDA. While a BJP-TDP adjustment could win the NDA some seats in Telangana, Mr. Modi hopes his personal equations with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa will eventually be translated into firm political support. But if he is serious about reaching out to others, Mr. Modi will have to decide what kind of politics he intends to pursue. Shock and awe tactics of the kind we saw on August 15 are likely to rebound on him.