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New Delhi: It has seemed a never-ending journey through a tunnel of darkness – but the end is nigh.
On Sunday, India entered the last week of the marathon process to campaign and elect members to the Lok Sabha. It also marks the penultimate day of voting, with 59 constituencies in the fray. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party theoretically has the advantage in phase six, having won 45 out of the 59 seats in 2014. All 17 seats in Delhi and Haryana will go to polls, along with others in Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
Meanwhile, social media’s outrage cycle oscillates between the two principal parties, generating enough content to keep its users engaged.
A day before, the Congress was roasted over Indian Overseas Congress chairman Sam Pitroda’s remarks that purportedly trivialised the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. He was forced to apologise and Congress president Rahul Gandhi disassociated himself from Pitroda’s statement.
Modi used the phrase to taunt the Congress and the Grand Alliance at a rally in UP. “Congress and its mahamilawati friends have run the nation on the basis of three words…The three words, which is their mantra, is hua toh hua (it happened, so what),” he said
On Saturday night, it was the turn of the saffron party.
Hiding in the clouds
The official BJP handle posted a series of tweets, quoting the prime minister from his interview with News Nation TV channel. However, it deleted one of those tweets.
The tweet quoted Modi as claiming to have suggested that Indian fighter jets could take advantage of heavy cloud cover due to bad weather to conduct the airstrikes in Balakot, Pakistan on February 26.
This is the exact transcript of what Modi told News Nation about his contribution in giving the green signal for the Balakot airstrikes despite bad weather.
“…Yeh bhi main pehli baar bol raha hoon… Hamare afsaro ko kya lagega mujhe maloom nahin. Ek pal hamare man mein aaya ki is weather mein kya karenge, cloud hain jaa payenge ki nahin jaa payenge. Toh by and large opinion yeh aya experts ka ki saheb date badal de to kya? Hamare man mein do vishay hain. Ek secrecy, abhi tak to secret raha hai, par agar secrecy mein kuch looseness ayi to phir to hum kar hi nahin sakte.. hume karna hi nahin chahiye. Doosra, maine kaha – I am not personally jo in saare vigyan ko jaanta ho – lekin maine kaha itne cloud hain, baarish ho rahi hai, to ek benefit hain ki hum radar se bach sakte hain. Main kaha ki mere raw wisdom hain, benefit bhi kar sakta hain. Sab uljhan mein the kya karen. Tab ultimately mein kaha, thik hai, cloud hain, jaiye. Chale pare.”
“…I am saying this for the first time. I don’t know what the officers will think about it. There was a thought that came into our mind, that with this weather, there were clouds, whether we will be able to go for it or not. By and large the opinion of experts that the date (for airstrikes) could be changed. I had two considerations. One was secrecy. So far, this had remained secret, but if there were any leaks, then the airstrikes will have to be abandoned. Secondly… I said.. I am not a person who knows everything about science, but I said that there is so much cloud cover and rain, which could be advantageous in escaping from radar. My raw wisdom could be beneficial. Everybody was in a dilemma on how to proceed further. Ultimately, I said, okay, there are clouds, go ahead… and they did.”
According to experts, military radar is designed to penetrate, and not acknowledge, clouds.
While National Conference leader Omar Abdullah mocked Modi’s words, Congress spokesperson Salman Soz noted that “it seems no one clarified for the PM how radar work”. “If that is the case, then it is very serious national security issue. No laughing matter,” he wrote.
The Left leader Sitaram Yechury termed it as an “insult” and “shameful”. “The fact that he is talking about all this is itself anti-national; no patriot would do this. National security is not something to be trifled with. Such an irresponsible statement from Modi is highly damaging. Somebody like this can’t remain India’s PM,” he tweeted.
The opposition were quick to jump on Modi’s words with the refrain of ‘national security’, as Modi has been largely soliciting votes on that platform.
Meanwhile, the Congress president was also on his own spree of giving media interviews.
Speaking to NDTV, he heaped praise on Bahujan Samaj party chief Mayawati as a “national symbol”.
“…she has given a message to the country. I respect her, love her. Sure we have a political fight and we fight for the ideology of the Congress… (but) I respect her contribution to the country,” he told NDTV.
His words of praise for the BSP leader came on the same day that Mayawati lashed out at the Congress government in Rajasthan for suppressing a report of a gang rape of a Dalit woman in Alwar till voting ended.
BSP Chief Mayawati: The guilty in Alwar gang-rape case should be hanged till death. Supreme Court should take action against the Congress government, police and the administration in the state. This matter is not just related to Dalits but all women. pic.twitter.com/CXm5GnCm6D
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) May 11, 2019
After speaking to the victim’s family, police officers and witnesses, The Wire reported that policemen waited for seven days to file a first information report till polling concluded in the state.
Incidentally, the BJP also raised the Alwar rape issue, with Modi accusing the Rajasthan government of “hushing up” the crime.
Earlier this month, Modi had claimed that the BSP was being undermined and used by SP’s alleged pro-Congress stance. This was immediately countered by Mayawati, who also announced that all alliance votes will be transferred to the Congress in Amethi and Rae Bareli.
On Saturday, Modi was taking pot-shots at the alliance in Uttar Pradesh, accusing them of playing caste politics. “The people of ‘mahamilawat’ recently started picking on my caste, I want to tell them that I belong to the caste of the poor of the country,” he said at a rally in Robertsganj, an ST reserved constituency.
In 2014, BJP had swept most of the 14 seats in UP that will witness voting on Sunday. With the formation of the SP-BSP alliance, most analysts claim that BJP will face a tough fight to retain those seats.
Fighting for Delhi
The capital city will be witnessing a three-cornered fight between the Aam Aadmi Party, BJP and Congress. BJP had won all the seats in 2014 and continues to have the advantage after the collapse of alliance talks between the Congress and AAP.
Both the Congress and BJP filed police complaints against AAP for “propagating false survey results through phone calls to voters”.
Delhi Congress chief Sheila Dikhsit called out chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on twitter for “spreading rumours about her health”. The Delhi chief minister promptly denied it.
मैंने आपकी सेहत पर कब कुछ बोला? कभी नहीं। मेरे परिवार ने मुझे बुज़ुर्गों की इज़्ज़त करना सिखाया है। भगवान आपको अच्छी सेहत और लम्बी उम्र दे। जब आप अपने इलाज के लिए विदेश जा रहीं थीं तो मैं बिना बुलाए आपकी सेहत पूछने आपके घर आया था। बताइए आपके घर भोजन करने कब आऊँ? https://t.co/As1iBrLy0v
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) May 11, 2019
Besides the routine rhetoric, Delhi witnessed fresh political drama a day before voting on Saturday. The estranged son of Aam Admi Party’s West Delhi candidate, Balbir Singh Jakhar, held a press conference to claim that his father paid Rs 6 crore to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal for a ticket.
The AAP candidate denied the allegations, claiming that he hardly ever spoke to his son. Meanwhile, the Delhi Police attempted to stop a press conference at the AAP headquarters, citing the ongoing ‘silence’ period. The party however went ahead, claiming that no vote was solicited or party symbol displayed at the press conference. The Delhi Police stated that Election Commission had been notified about the violation of the Model Code of Conduct.
The ‘silence period’ in Delhi was also the reason given by Election Commission for sending a notice to NaMo TV. According to media reports, the notice was sent to the BJP for “airing election-related content on the NaMo TV even after the silence period began”.
After BJP acknowledged that NaMo TV was sponsored by the party, the Election Commission had directed that all recorded programmes should be pre-certified by the monitoring committee before broadcast.
News from the states
Politicians continue to play their psychological games, forecasting maximum tallies for their parties.
Union minister Jitendra Singh said that the BJP would surpass its 2014 score of eight seats in the Northeast and open accounts in Meghalaya, Tripura and Manipur.
Across the aisle, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav was making similar predictions of sweep in Uttar Pradesh.
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav: In the 6th phase of elections, BJP and Congress will win zero seats. In the 7th phase they might win a few seats, BJP will win only 1 seat in that phase. https://t.co/MAMk0vpTU4
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) May 11, 2019
In West Bengal, a BJP Yuva morcha leader was remanded to judicial custody for 14 days after being slapped with non-bailable charges of posting a photoshopped image of chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
The no-holds barred verbal tit-for-tat between Modi and Banerjee continued on Saturday.
Raising questions about frequent visits by Modi to West Bengal, Banerjee claimed that the prime minister wanted to create division among people and was conveying “loads of money to distribute to the people.”
“I request the Election Commission to please also check my car and my helicopter. But check all the union ministers’ cars and helicopters too. They cannot be exempted. They are bringing in money through various ways. They even travel in Z and Y category security and carry funds in their vehicles. Please keep a watch so that not a single rupee comes in, not a single outsider comes in and proper democracy is maintained,” she said.