Opinion | How PM Modi's Aggressive Batting Has Put Congress In A Tight Spot

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech in Rajasthan's Banswara will be remembered as one of the most controversial addresses in India's electoral history. He is alleged to have referred to Muslims as "infiltrators" and "those who have more children", insinuating that the Congress is planning to distribute people's resources to them.

It is for the Election Commission to assess whether such statements breach the model code of conduct, and for posterity to judge the appropriateness of such rhetoric from a Prime Minister. However, there is little doubt that with just one statement, the Prime Minister has significantly shifted the tone of the elections. The attack was so severe that the Congress found itself stunned and unsure of how to respond. Analysts speculate that low voter turnout may have unsettled the Prime Minister, leading him to alter the narrative.

PM's Concerns

The statement in Banswara should be considered alongside his earlier criticism of the Congress, where he likened its manifesto to that of the Muslim League under Jinnah in 1935. This remark was made even before the commencement of polling.

It seems evident that the Prime Minister has recognised that despite the inauguration of the Ram Mandir and the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) claims of securing 370 seats, Hindu voters are not as enthusiastic about the BJP's performance over the last decade, and a degree of anti-incumbency has set in. As a savvy politician, he has deduced that amidst increasing opposition scrutiny of his government, it would be challenging for his party to garner votes solely on the basis of developmental claims. His concerns are compounded by surveys indicating that people attribute issues like unemployment, inflation, and corruption more to his government than to state administrations.

Making Sense Of The 'Muslim League' Reference 

In this light, the Prime Minister's critique should be interpreted. Firstly, while the Muslim League reference may seem incongruous to liberal analysts in the contemporary context, it is a shrewdly constructed argument. By invoking the Muslim League, the Prime Minister is reminding voters of India's history, wherein Muslims were seen as playing a role in the country's partition. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has long disputed the notion that British 'divide and rule' policies were solely responsible for partition, instead attributing it to what they perceive as the Muslims' refusal to fully embrace India as their homeland. They contend that Muslims sought a separate nation and ultimately got it.

Secondly, the Muslim League is synonymous with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who initially advocated for Hindu-Muslim unity but later became a staunch communalist. His brainchild was an independent and sovereign Pakistan for Muslims. The RSS and the BJP have never reconciled with Jinnah; their antipathy towards him is so profound that the party has not forgiven its own members, such as L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh, for attempting to portray Jinnah as secular. Advani was compelled to resign as party president, and Jaswant Singh was expelled from the BJP. The PM seeks to remind voters that the Congress has not learnt from its historical missteps; it continues to court Muslims, as it did with Jinnah before partition, risking another division of the country. Essentially, he is prompting people to consider whether they are willing to permit a recurrence of such events.

Congress's 'Soft Hindutva'

Third, since Narendra Modi's rise, the Congress has actively sought to shed its image as a party closely aligned with Muslims, making efforts to appear accommodating to all. The BJP seizes every opportunity to remind voters of how, in its prime, the Congress reversed a Supreme Court order regarding triple talaq in the Shah Bano case, allegedly to appease Muslim fundamentalists for electoral gains. To counter this narrative and distance itself from the perception of being pro-Muslim, Rahul Gandhi was observed visiting temples during the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections, a move criticised by Left-leaning intellectuals, who accused him and the Congress of embracing 'soft Hindutva'. The Prime Minister aims to reinforce this portrayal of the Congress in voters' minds once again.

Fourth, under Modi's leadership, the BJP has consistently depicted the Congress as anti-Hindu since 2014. This narrative was evident when senior Congress leaders like Sonia Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge declined an invitation to attend the Ram Mandir Consecration on January 22; the BJP labelled the Congress as anti-Hindu and anti-Lord Ram. When DMK leader Udhayanidhi Stalin compared Sanatan Dharma to dengue and malaria, and advocated for its eradication, the Congress faced criticism for aligning with a party deemed anti-Hindu. The Congress is deeply concerned about this anti-Hindu perception taking a hold on voters. Modi seeks to instil in Hindu voters the belief that the Congress's temple visits and soft Hindutva stance are merely facades, and that their manifesto reflects anti-Hindu sentiments.

The Caste Census Question

Fifth, since the Karnataka assembly elections, Rahul Gandhi has championed the cause of caste census, demanding enumeration to assess the status of OBCs, Dalits, and tribals in employment and governance. The Congress manifesto pledges not only to conduct a caste census but also to surpass the 50% reservation ceiling. Rahul recognises that without the support of OBCs and Dalits, forming a government at the Centre will be a challenge for the Congress. While the BJP, once dubbed a 'Brahmin-Baniya' party, has made inroads among OBCs, it hesitates to endorse caste census due to ideological reasons. Rahul Gandhi's push for caste census could create divisions among the BJP's OBC supporters. Modi attempts to divert these voters' attention from caste issues to others.

A Reminder Of The Ideological Mission

Sixth, the BJP's rallying slogan in all elections has been that Hindus must unite or run the risk of being dominated by Muslims and Christians. The first phase of elections has revealed a degree of apathy and unease among the BJP's Hindu supporters, with feedback indicating complacency within the party cadre. Modi endeavours to reinvigorate the cadre about their ideological mission and the need to consolidate Hindu voters.

Modi is a skilled tactician, adept at crafting narratives with enough amplification by a battery of sympathisers. He understands that ten years is a long time for dissatisfaction to simmer against the ruling party and government. Besides the BJP, the Congress is the only party with a national presence, making discrediting it a key goal for Modi. Now, the onus is on the Congress to defend itself and launch a counteroffensive.

In the modern technological era, elections are akin to warfare, and all strategies are deemed fair.

(Ashutosh is the author of 'Hindu Rashtra' and co-founder of SatyaHindi.com)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.