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Posted at: Sep 12, 2015, 2:11 AM; last updated: Sep 12, 2015, 2:06 AM (IST)MODI’S CHANDIGARH VISIT

Empty chairs greet PM at rally venue

No announcement of financial package and low attendance at the rally have given the Opposition a chance to attack the state govt

Sidelights

  • Ambala MP Rattan Lal Kataria, seated next to Chandigarh MP Kirron Kher, saw it to be the perfect opportunity of getting clicked with her. He was seen taking selfies with Kher just before Modi arrived
  • Kher was the only glamour quotient at the event — a fact acknowledged by Haryana Education and Civil Aviation Minister Ram Bilas Sharma. He profusely thanked Kher for being on stage and said that because of her presence, he was assured of his pictures getting clicked by the media
  • UT Adviser Vijay Kumar Dev, while delivering the vote of thanks at the rally, showed his “pleasure” at hosting the PM by reciting Bulle Shah’s couplet, “Bulle Shah assin tere barde haan, tera mukh vekhan nu marde haan”

Ruchika M Khanna

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 11

The BJP game plan of turning the Prime Minister’s visit and his rally in Chandigarh into a show of strength seems to have failed. The party units from the three host states—Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana—failed to mobilise enough crowds to fill the rally ground here, on the maiden visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he assumed office in May 2014.

Empty chairs on one side of the rally ground greeted PM Modi as he reached here to address the rally. Though all three host states had made tall claims of getting together 1 lakh persons for the rally, the crowds at the venue were rather unimpressive, forcing the wily Punjab Chief Minister and chief patron of the SAD Parkash Singh Badal to “apologise” for the poor numbers in crowds. His message to the Prime Minister and the BJP was clear—the party is still at a fledgling state and cannot take off in the region on its own.

Having been elected to power at the Centre last year with an overwhelming majority, the BJP has been trying hard to broaden its base in the region. The party not only had an impressive show in Chandigarh, where the “Modi wave” helped a political greenhorn like Kirron Kher to defeat Congress veteran Pawan Bansal, but the party also managed an impressive win in the Haryana Assembly election last October, forming the government in the state on its own for the first time.

Seeing its magic working, the party has for some time been hinting at going it alone in Punjab in the next Assembly elections. Both the Akali Dal and the BJP have been giving clear signals that the alliance may be called off before the next elections. With almost all central BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Modi himself, raking up the drug menace issue in Punjab and indirectly blaming the Akali Dal for it, fissures in the alliance have been there for all to see.

Peeved, the Akali Dal has also started working towards contesting the next elections on its own, by activating its own party leaders in the 23 constituencies allotted to the BJP.

Though, of late there have been speculations of a new thaw in relations between the Akali Dal and the BJP, with intra-party BJP politics, wherein a faction of the BJP has reportedly reached out to the Akalis against BJP president Kamal Sharma’s group. The group is also learnt to have not helped the Kamal Sharma group in mobilising crowds for the rally.

On the other hand, most leaders in the Akali Dal feel the new dispensation in the central leadership of the BJP is opposed to the Akalis.

No wonder, the BJP’s failure to muster enough crowds for the rally today made Badal comment on it, with an underlying hint that the BJP was still not capable of going it alone. “There was little time for us to prepare for the rally. Please allow us another opportunity and we will ensure large crowds, as deemed fit for a person of your stature,” remarked Badal from the stage.

BJP leaders from Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh were given targets to mobilise 30,000, 30,000 and 40,000 persons, respectively. While leaders from both Punjab and Haryana claimed they did get as many people, intelligence sources say of the 18,000 chairs laid out at the venue, 5,000 were empty.

The buzz

Airport name row

The controversy over the name of the new international terminal inaugurated by the PM remains. While both Punjab and Haryana — having equal equity share in the airport — have agreed that the airport should be named after freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, Haryana has objected to “Mohali” being included in its name – Shaheed-e-Azam Sardar Bhagat Singh International Airport, Mohali. Sources say the name will finally be decided by the Union Civil Aviation Ministry and will then be ratified by the Union Cabinet. 

CM’s hint to PM

Was there a hidden message in CM Parkash Singh Badal’s tongue-in-cheek remark on the dais at the rally ground where the Akali leader “apologised” to the PM for not being able to arrange a crowd big enough for Modi’s stature. Considering that a large number of chairs at the venue were vacant and there was hardly any Akali presence, it seemed that Badal was telling Modi that the BJP still had a long way to go before it could think of having a political identity independent of the Akali Dal. 

Sukhbir absent

While Punjab’s Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal was a prominent absentee at the rally ground, so were a majority of Akali ministers. On the dais, Modi was flanked by Chief Ministers Parkash Singh Badal and Manohar Lal Khattar, Union Ministers Birinder Singh and Vijay Sampla, Members of Parliament Kirron Kher, Prem Singh Chandumajra and Rattan Lal Kataria, Haryana Minister for Civil Aviation Ram Bilas Sharma. 

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