With Gandhi-Bashing Speeches, PM Modi Sets Agenda For Next Election

Published: February 08, 2018 12:48 IST
Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, spoke for about four hours in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha and while being constantly heckled by the opposition, gave speeches that were clearly aimed at firing up the BJP's base ahead of general elections.

The reaction of his cabinet colleague Rajnath Singh clearly showed mission accomplished - the Union Home Minister shook his head and pumped his fist post the Prime Minister's speech in the Lok Sabha. 

The contents of Modi's speeches essentially consisted of attacking the Gandhi family and the Congress party with dollops of extremely problematic history - virtually a course in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's alt history - thrown in. It identified the agenda for mission 2019; senior BJP leaders said that attacking the Gandhi family and corruption would be the central theme that Modi would take to the voters.
pm modi parliament 650

PM Modi spoke for about four hours in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha yesterday

The electoral intent of the Modi speeches were also evident in the jibes at the Congress party's Siddaramaiah, Chief Minister of Karnataka, which is soon going to the polls and which the BJP is desperate to win to give momentum for a saffron surge in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and then the general elections.

Modi's speeches were also notable for what they chose to omit. Curiously Modi, despite four years in office, did not showcase his own track record on governance. Jobs - he had promised to create 10 million a year - farm distress and foreign policy found no mention. He seemed to be asking voters for another chance to attack the Congress and the Gandhi family, which are the root cause of the country's problems.

BJP leaders say that attacks on the Gandhi family, specially Congress president Rahul Gandhi whose image the party has systematically tried to destroy, still have a lot of traction among the party's base. But corruption, the issue which Modi hard-sold to get into office in 2014, does not have the same resonance even among the faithful. 
rahul gandhi

Congress president Rahul Gandhi was at the receiving end of PM Modi's stinging attack on his party

"How can we tell the voters we are cracking down on corruption post the 2G verdict? We have now been in government for four years and we had promised to send Robert Vadra, who Modi used to refer to as "damaadji" (Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law), to jail within a month after coming to power. Vadra still roams free. Vijay Mallya and Lalit Modi have managed to escape. Our own Rafale deal has caused controversy and disquiet. But then, Modi and Shah know best," a cabinet minister and BJP leader said.

If the Gandhi family and corruption are central issues as they were in 2014, the BJP strategists have another issue they have used before - communal polarisation. This, not surprisingly, actually fires up the base. The dog whistles remain. So Modi will maintain his strategic silence on gau rakshaks and hate speeches in Parliament and on the campaign trail will add an occasional jibe like the one about "kabristans".

Take the case of Bajrang Dal founder and BJP Rajya Sabha MP, Vinay Katiyar who is courting a controversy a day asking for all Muslims to go to Pakistan and attacking the Taj Mahal. This desperate headline hunting is to ensure that his Rajya Sabha term is renewed. Katiyar's current term in parliament started in 2012. BJP leaders have learnt that Muslim baiting pays as Katiyar, despite his hate speeches, has attracted no censure from the party.
vinay katiyar

Senior BJP lawmaker Vinay Katiyar said Muslims have "no business being in India" and they should go live in Pakistan or Bangladesh

As frantic attempts were made to fact check Modi's speeches, which pitted India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru against Sardar Patel and even claimed that "Benazir Bhutto had signed the Simla accord with Indira Gandhi" a senior BJP leader mockingly said last evening, "Modiji has done a masterly diversion. He has created rabbit holes for you in the media, ensured that Rahul Gandhi and the Gandhi family remain enemy number 1. Who cares about historical facts. The channels which are sympathetic to us have been set the agenda and will now fill it in with spectacle. So the budget and the Rajasthan by-polls will be forgotten as history is debated."

The opposition clearly realised this and the Congress said that Modi was using parliament to make a campaign speech and not focusing on the real issues that matter to India. But, Modi's unparalleled oratory, despite lacklustre content, is what the BJP seems to be banking on.

So as Modi sounded the poll bugle from Raisina Hill, brace yourself for election season. Expect more Gandhi family bashing, alt history lessons, the Ram Mandir.

It is the opposition's job to hold the Modi government to account on jobs and economic and agrarian distress. And, as Modi kicks off the battle for the general election, the voter will decide.

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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