Some background. With the caveat that I am the author of a book on Modi and Amit Shah and their role in the Gujarat riots, I quote from a speech that Modi as Chief Minister made in Gujarat in 2002 during the election campaign in the state: "I told them that I got water from Narmada in the month of Shravan. If they had it their way, they would have got it in Ramazan...What should we do? Run relief camps for them? Do we want to open baby-producing centres? We are five and we will have 25 offspring. Gujarat has not been able to control its growing population and poor people have not been able to get money."
Now back to the present day. 15 years later, Modiji is now the PM of our country. He is the vikas purush who talks of a 56-inch chest to protect his countrymen against all odds. Countrymen, one assumes, as citizens of all faiths, castes, sects as bestowed on them by the Indian constitution. But somehow at an election rally in Fatehpur, Uttar Pradesh on Sunday, PM Modi disheartened those trying to put to rest the ghost of 2002. In what was meant to be a dig at Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, Modi said "Gaon me kabristan banta hai to shamshaan bhi banana chahiye; Ramazan mein bijli aati hai toh Diwali mein bhi aani chahiye. Bhed bhaav nahin hona chahiye (If a village has a graveyard, it should also have a cremation ground; if there is electricity during Ramazan, then it must be available during Diwali too. There shouldn't be any discrimination based on religion.)"
Modi's allegation has not been substantiated and Akhilesh Yadav insists that he is ready to swear on the Ganga that there has been no discrimination.
There were no connotations, this was brazen polarization. The type that made us liberals visit 2002 yet again. This was political discourse at its nadir. On expected lines, his political rival Akhilesh Yadav responded asking Amitabh Bachchan to not endorse donkeys in Gujarat. The political discourse sinks. In a previous column, I have discussed with great detail the insincerity of Akhilesh Yadav while dealing with the victims of the Muzaffarnagar riots. But Modi's poll rhetoric is damaging and nefarious in its design. Modi is just not another star campaigner. He is the Prime Minister of India, a democracy that prides itself in the world community.
Modi acolytes suggest that this was the Prime Minister's reply to the minority appeasement practiced by Akhilesh Yadav in the state, an argument that has perhaps formed the fulcrum of right-wing narrative since the freedom movement. While the PM spoke the language one resented in a state which had witnessed similar polarization in Muzaffarnagar in 2014, his party president Amit Shah at another election rally did not disappoint his chief. He asked the crowd in Mathura if they had got laptops from the Akhilesh government. They replied in the negative. Then raising the crescendo of his speech, he made a veiled reference to Muslims and said that "they" had got laptops from the Akhilesh government. The BJP is yet to provide any evidence or document that proves that Hindus were discriminated against through the distribution of laptops. Deja Vu?
This is not the first time Modi and his ministers have been accused of colouring elections with a communal hue, especially in states where there was a tough opposition. In the Bihar legislative election, Amit Shah had infamously suggested that if they did not come to power in the state, crackers would be heard in Pakistan.
If one were to keep the rhetoric aside, perhaps the most essential issue for the common man in Uttar Pradesh is his basic necessity: electricity, safety of the girl child, education, a corruption-free state. If one where to do a survey in Uttar Pradesh, a cremation ground would be the last on the list for a voter.
But clearly, there is a lot more at stake for the Prime Minister who came to power on the premise of sabka saath, sabka vikas. Clearly he wasn't bothered that his party could not find a single Muslim candidate in Uttar Pradesh to fight the assembly election in 2017. Clearly the Prime Minister has not moved an inch from his stated position in 2002 where he wanted to get water for the Gujaratis in Shravan and not Ramazan.
(Rana Ayyub is an award-winning investigative journalist and political writer. She is the author of 'Gujarat Files', a book on the politics of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in Gujarat.)
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