Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on Monday performed shastra puja (worship of weapons) at his official residence in Gandhinagar, raising questions whether someone in his position should be taking part in such a ritual.

On display at the prayers, while members of the elite National Security Guard (NSG) and the state police looked on, were sub- machine guns, AKseries assault rifles, and prohibited bore pistols. These are regular issue for the NSG, paramilitary forces and the Army.

Also placed in the row of weapons for the prayers – usually performed on Vijaya Dashami, the last day of Navratra – were swords, tridents, clubs and axes.

As the CM performed the prayers for close to two hours, none of the NSG men appeared to be armed. Their weapons had evidently been presented for the ritual.

This worship is a traditional ritual, followed by those who carry weapons-like the Rajputs, or members of the armed forces and the police. It is believed to have its genesis in the worship of weapons by Rama’s followers before the final battle with Ravana, in which the demon king was killed.

However, when a top civilian representative takes part in such a practice, controversy is bound to follow.

Modi has made this an annual ritual, and those close to him insist he has not done anything unusual. The CM’s office too did not think it was out of place for him to worship deadly weapons belonging to NSG personnel.

“The CM started the shastra puja tradition on Vijaya Dashami in 2002. Everyone, including the security personnel and the NSG men, takes part. No one has ever said anything,” said Jagdish Thacker, Modi’s media advisor.

However, that may no longer be true. The Congress expressed surprise at the chief minister’s worship of deadly weapons and said it showed his weak character rather than strength.

“The attempts of the chief minister of Gujarat to project a muscular image are nothing short of comic,” said Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari.

The Left condemned it as a “medieval” practice. “What is he trying to do? He should have some sense. No one can be stopped from offering prayers on Vijaya Dashami but collecting arms from security personnel and worshipping them is going a bit too far,” said CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan.

Modi’s party, the BJP, appeared to be trying to make sense of what political message the Hindu Hriday Samrat was sending. “I really do not know anything about it,” said BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy. However, the fact that NSG men did not have their weapons seems to have upset the brass of the elite force that protects VIPs. NSG director-general NPS Aulakh was unavailable for comment. But, a senior official in Delhi said there were strict guidelines for the commandos to always hold their weapons while on duty.

“At any time, there are six to eight NSG commandos with their weapons-usually an MP5 or an AK-series rifle-guarding the closest security ring of a Z-plus protectee like Modi. In no event are they supposed to hand over their weapons to anyone,” he said.

He said if on- duty NSG commandos had flouted the rules, the matter would invite an internal inquiry.

Former NSG director- general Ved Marwah said, “I am sure rules do not allow for such a thing, where commandos hand over weapons for worship. Maybe the commandos could not say ‘no’ to the chief minister. I cannot recall any such case during my tenure at the NSG.”

President Pratibha Patil posed with an AK-47 rifle recovered from militants during her visit to Jammu & Kashmir in May last year.

The President, seen with a weapon linked to militants, was disapproved by many. Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah criticised Patil on his blog, saying he would have rather seen her talking to kids about the future. He wrote: “it (was a) reminder of the one object that has caused so much death and destruction over the last 18 years.”

This story first appeared on The Mail Today and India Today on October 05, 2009 here.