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Day after Deshmukh-Patil rally, Modi steals the show

Day after Deshmukh-Patil rally, Modi steals the show

Author: Kavitha Iyer
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: April 19, 2009

It was a cheeky show of strength by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Not only did they organise a rally by Narendra Modi' in Latur just a day after Latur's leading lights Vilasrao Deshmukh and Shivraj Patil addressed a joint public meeting, but they also drew more than 50,000 people to an afternoon meeting, not a single one of them Gujarati and each one of them fervent enough to brave the prohibitive Marathwada summer temperature to listen to the Gujarat chief minister.

The Rajasthani School ground was packed hours before Modi arrived. When his chopper landed, the crowds outside surged and strained at the barricades, giving the security forces a nightmare of an afternoon and the BJP multiple reasons to be thrilled. The intense adulation Modi appeared to command in a district he has never addressed people before would have surprised even the BJP's organisers.

"Arre bhai," Modi had to say mid-speech, when the crowds' waiting outside continued to raise slogans and battle policemen refusing to let any more people into the pandal, "show me only as much love as I can digest." He then had to wait until more chants of. "Dekho Dekho Kaun Aaya, Hindustim Ka Sher Aaya" died down before he could continue his speech.

He wasted little time there; after, getting down to business straightaway and calling the decades of dynastic rule regressive and led by "politics of votebanks" instead of the "politics of development".

"Look at Gujarat as an example," he said to rapt attention. "I invite people of Latur to my state. You had an earthquake here 15 years ago. We had one six years ago. Compare the change in Bhuj arid Latur, see how we have rebuilt our villages," he said, as the cheers started again.

"Is that true?" asked Laxmikant Bhoir, a small fanner who had travelled 80 km in a packed jeep to attend the rally. "I came because I've heard fanners in Gujarat are buying more land, are they really that successful there?" Bhoir is a Shiv Sena loyalist, but that's not the only reason he'll vote for the BJP, he said. Praveen Sawant, a BJP activist with businesses and a hotel in Latur, said he had not seen such a crowd even for L KAdvani.

Hunger, poverty and corruption were what Latur has received after years of Congress rule, Modi declared, continuing the Gujarat-Maharashtra comparison that has been the flavour of the week for politicians from both key combines. While Vilasrao Deshmukh insisted on Friday that Maharashtra was the leading state in the country in terms of attracting internments, Modi enticed the listeners, who included a large number of Dalits, with the idea of farming without power-cuts, ample water supply and quick development schemes.

Modi, obviously, is a man in a hurry and quick answers are something Latur's poor would like. If the day's turnout is anything to go by, the Congress could well surrender Latur, a one-time Congress bastion, once again. The BJP candidate Sunil Gaikwad, 39, may not be very popular, but then neither was Rupatai Patil Nilangekar, who defeated Shivraj Patil, who had been elected MP from Latur seven times in a row.

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