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After talking about neo middle class the Gujarat chief minister redefines secularism as ' India First' in his video address to NRIs

PUSHING the limits of national discourse, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on Sunday unveiled his neo- secular agenda, redefining secularism in decidedly inclusive terms and saying that for him the term means " India First."

Going beyond the references to religion and the debate on secularism versus pseudo- secularism, he said, " Whatever we do, it must be for India. We must never let India, her honour, the dreams of the people be adversely affected. India first it must be." Modi, who addressed the Indian diaspora in America through video conferencing in a community outreach programme organised by the Overseas Friends of BJP ( OFBJP) in New Jersey and Chicago said, " Country is above all religions and ideologies... I agree friends that as an Indian, as a citizen who loves India, you will also agree with my definition. We might do any work or take any decision, India should be supreme." Modi's address to the Indian- American community was in many ways a counter punch after he could not deliver the keynote address to the Wharton India Economic Forum because of protests. TV Asia CEO H. R. Shah has claimed that Modi's address on Sunday was seen live by several million people across the world.

The OFBJP, a BJP sympathiser group has presence across 12 states in the US. The body claims to work towards projecting a positive and correct image of India and its people in the US and foreign media.

Political agenda

In redefining secularism, Modi is only redrawing the political agenda for himself and his party -- set as he inevitably is for a larger national role -- perhaps aware that he can be a divisive figure. The Wharton experience proved just that. His redefinition of secularism is surely a mature way to appeal to a pan Indian audience.

Modi's articulation of his neo- secular agenda, which helps focus on his style of governance and what has come to be known as the Gujarat model of development, is not the first time that the charismatic Gujarat leader has redefined a term. ' Neo middle class' was coined by him and found its way into the party's manifesto ahead of the Gujarat assembly elections last year.

" Neo Middle Class will be identified and welfare schemes will be worked out for them," the BJP's commitment charter had said. Later, in his victory address, Modi had referred to this upwardly mobile section of the society and their growing aspirations among whom he is hugely popular. " Over the last decade, Gujarat has witnessed the rise of a neo middle class. The improvement in their lives is a result of their hard work," Modi had said, adding: " This is the real Gujarati spirit, one which has stood the test of time. The government's economic policies have enabled them to taste the fruits of development and scale new heights of prosperity. It becomes our duty to continue to take care for the well being of this new segment in Gujarat's society." On Sunday morning, as he spoke to the Indian Americans -- it was still Saturday in the US -- Modi spoke of Bharat Prem and Bharat Bhakti and how this must remain and increase over the years. During his hourlong speech he spoke on faith, Gujarat's development, Vivekananda, greeted people on Mahashivratri, which fell on Sunday -- but did not forget to take two important swipes at the Manmohan Singh government.

He pointed out that while the Centre allocated ` 1,000 crore for skill development, a ' small state' like Gujarat allotted ` 800 crore for strengthening skills of the youth. " Being the world's most youthful nation, it is our duty to provide skills to our youth so that they can shine. If we do value addition for the youth, a lot can happen," Modi said.

Praising Vajpayee

Then, heaping praise on Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Gujarat chief minister said after the nuclear tests in 1998 when Vajpayee was PM, the faith of Indians both in India and across the world was further renewed. But, he added that while it was as if India was set to arrive at a leading position on the global stage, nothing of the sort happened in the last six- seven years.

For the record, Modi conceded that there may have been lapses in governance, but he touted development as the panacea for all ailments. According to him, there may be delays and problems on the way but that does not take away the fact that development is the solution to all problems.

He referred to his win in the 2012 Gujarat elections to illustrate the point that it is possible to win elections on the basis of development. Modi also reached out to the youth in his address while paying tribute to Swami Vivekananda and pointed out that Gujarat is celebrating Swami Vivekananda's 150th birth anniversary as Yuva Shakti Varsh with a special focus on skill development.

Growing demand

A government release on the eve of Modi's video address to the OFBJP had said that " the event vindicates a visible growing demand from the global audience to listen and talk to Mr Modi on being elected as the chief minister of Gujarat for the fourth time, for his being at the helm of affairs in Gujarat for the longest duration of 11years.

He has emerged as a creditworthy Indian politician for his leadership qualities and having established the ' Gujarat's development model' as the most viable option for growth."

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Mar 11, 2013
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