Madhopur (Punjab), June 24: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's first major public outing as a national-level leader of the BJP may have been given a miss by the party's top brass but he surely did not show any signs of being uncomfortable.
For all the controversies surrounding his elevation as the chairman of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) poll campaign panel recently, Modi chose the occasion to invoke the name of veteran leader and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the Sankalp rally here at this north Punjab town Sunday. It also marked the 60th death anniversary of Jana Sangh founder Shyama Prasad Mookerjee.
Modi lavished praise on Vajpayee as a leader and for good governance. He drew comparison of Vajpayee's tenure as the prime minister (1999-2004) with the United Progressive Alliance's tenure since then, alleging that the UPA has failed the nation on all fronts.
While Modi questioned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's style of governance, especially related to issues of the country's security and international standing, he also took jibes at the Congress and its leadership. He said that the country was not safe in the hands of the Congress.
During his 20-minute speech, Modi did not mention any other BJP leader, especially senior leader L.K. Advani who has been upset with the BJP for promoting Modi on the national scene.
"The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government tried to address the Kashmir issue. Had the Vajpayee government come back to power in the 2004 general elections, the issue would have been addressed. Things would have been different in Kashmir now. The Kashmiri Pandits would have got their rights and respect. The youth of Kashmir would have been part of the national mainstream," he said.
Modi said that Mookerjee was a "martyr" who sacrificed his life for the unity of the country.
The Gujarat chief minister chose the occasion to attack the country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, claiming that the "seeds of autocratic" rule were sown in the Congress when leaders like Sardar Patel, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Mookerjee left Nehru's government one by one.
The questions regarding the mysterious death of Mookerjee in 1953 were brought into the limelight by Modi, who sought answers for the incident. Mookerjee had died in custody while leading a protest against the special privileges granted to Jammu and Kashmir.
Senior BJP leader Shanta Kumar, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, BJP general secretary Jagat Prakash Nadda, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha president Anurag Thakur, and actor and former union minister Vinod Khanna were present at the rally.
None of the top BJP national leaders like BJP president Rajnath Singh, Advani, Sushma Swaraj, and Arun Jaitley attended the rally.