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Newsmaker: Narendra Modi

Aditi Phadnis/New Delhi 21 Dec 12 | 12:40 AM

As much of India waited with excited anticipation for the outcome of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections on Wednesday night, Narendra Modi used the rare respite to do what few chief ministers would do on the eve of election results. He held a 90-minute meeting to review his government's plans to provide drinking water.

The context was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remarks while campaigning in Gujarat that incomplete work on the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Dam Canal had contributed to water scarcity in the state. “We were dumbstruck. I don’t know who advised the prime minister; but if there is anything the Gujarat government has done, it is taking drinking water to places which have been parched for several decades. What Gujarat has been able to do in this field, few other states have managed," said a Gujarat government official.

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Puzzled and confused by this charge, Modi decided to hold a review meeting of all the drinking water schemes undertaken by his government. “Some small problems in implementation did come up during the meeting, but by and large it was found that people in Gujarat lauded their chief minister for his efforts to provide water to them", the official said, adding that after the statement, it was the prime minister’s credibility that might have slipped a bit.

Modi is a details man and this was evident as he wound up his second tenure and prepared for a third — possibly a truncated one. Officials say he would hit the ground running in his new term: the Vibrant Gujarat meeting to invite investment is due in the first week of January. On Wednesday, Modi went personally and inspected the venue and the arrangements. In between, he squeezed time to call on Madhavsinh Solanki who is in hospital. The Congress leader and former chief minister’s tally of 149 seats for the Congress party in 1985 is yet to be bested.

Over the weekend, he is expected to call on friends and colleagues, hold public meetings and savour his victory a little bit.

Then he will (and there’s no hurry, say his advisors ) review his position in relation to the future. The mood in his party is one of restraint where everyone is happy, yet no one is happy. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is watchful and worried about Modi's unbridled gains. It is an open secret that senior RSS pracharaks worked for Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan party during the campaign and flatly refused to work for Modi. His gesture of calling on Keshubhai was lost on no one.

BJP president Nitin Gadkari's supporters say Modi's win is not a threat to him. But these are brave words. If under Gadkari’s leadership the party had also won Himachal Pradesh, it would have been interpreted as a complete rejection of the Congress and endorsement of the BJP-led opposition — with Gadkari leading from the front. That didn’t happen.

With the tide in favour of Modi, his shift to Delhi is inevitable. BJP sources say it could happen towards the middle or the end of 2013, after the Karnataka, Delhi, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh elections are out of the way. Those concerned about his rise are hoping for a third term for Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, so that he can be competition to Modi.

But, for now, the man of the moment is Narendra Modi. You can love him or hate him, but you cannot ignore him.

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