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New Delhi: Taking forward his party’s 2014 poll plank, that ‘nothing happened’ in the 70 years under Congress rule, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is going to voters with the aggressive political message that India has regained its ‘lost pride’ to become a ‘strong’ nation only in the last five years of BJP rule.
On April 14 too, addressing three rallies – in Kathua (Jammu and Kashmir), Aligarh and Moradabad (Uttar Pradesh) – Modi stuck to the electioneering script of his party strategists. “First in 2014, and then in 2017, you have supported this chowkidar. It is the reason that India as a nation could bring back its glory. Today, the United Nations is taking note of India. Russia too has felicitated us. South Korea has felicitated us also. Even Saudi Arabia has felicitated us…today, the Pakistan government is going around the world crying. Today, the entire world is standing with India. Pakistan’s own have turned them away. Remember, what used to happen before with Pakistan? The Congress government would go around the world crying…tell me today, can you see a strong nation or not?” Modi asked voters in Moradabad.
The arithmetic in UP
What is noteworthy is that, aside from talking about ‘national security’ and ‘nation’s pride’, the day’s script for all three rallies also included a concerted effort to club the party slogan ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ with ‘Babasaheb Ambedkar zindabad’ and ‘Jai Bhim’. On the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti, Modi began all the three rallies precisely the same way.
Taking this political message to the voters is crucial for BJP’s success in a strategic state like UP. According to political analysts, the Muslim-Dalit-Yadav combination will play out in 47 of the 80 Lok Sabha constituencies and it could well prove to be a bane for the BJP, which managed to grab power in New Delhi in 2014 only because its tally in UP went up to 71.
It is in these seats the gatbandhan of Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and smaller parties like the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) are expecting to win over the Hindu right party. As per the 2011 Census, UP has 21% Dalits followed by 19% Muslims. The Yadav population is counted to be around 9%-10%.
The April 18 polling will take place in eight constituencies – Agra, Nagina, Aligarh, Hatras, Mathura, Amroha, Bulandshahr and Fatehpur Sikri. Of these, Nagina, Bulandshahr, Hathras and Agra are SC seats.
Aside from Modi, BJP national president Amit Shah too was seen in Gandhinagar carrying out a ‘Jan Sampark’ event on April 14 by the Baba Saheb Ambedkar statute in the city and speaking on similar lines.
Realising the stiff competition on the ground with the gatbandhan, Modi went after the SP and BSP chiefs too. “Bua (Mayawati) went after babua (Akhilesh Yadav); babua also did the same. And today, the elephant (the BSP symbol) is riding on the bicycle (SP symbol) and only this chowkidar (BJP) is keeping its eye on the goal (of winning the polls),” he said.
On April 14, Mayawati also launched a fresh attack on the BJP’s anti-Muslim stand. Condemning Maneka Gandhi, a minister in the Modi government and BJP candidate from Pilibhit, for threatening Muslim voters of Sultanpur, she said, “BJP leaders forgot issues like black money, corruption, unemployment and farmer’s woes and started using issues like national security in this election season. But that didn’t work, and now they have started threatening voters that their work will not be done. What Maneka Gandhi has done is condemnable.”
While seen making a forceful attempt to consolidate votes to retain as many Lok Sabha seats as possible in UP, the prime minister was trying to reach out to voters in South India too, particularly through his party’s alliance with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.
In an interview to Chennai-based Dina Thanthi group on April 13, Modi justified the alliance saying, “Everyone knows the camaraderie that existed between Jayalalitha and the BJP.” On pointing out that many of the AIADMK ministers and leaders were accused of corruption, he retorted, “We are just a minor partner in the AIADMK alliance and have aligned with it for political and electoral reasons. Our fight against corruption will not cease, no one can escape an investigation.”
News from the Northeast
Like all BJP leaders taking forward the party’s ‘national security’ and ‘Pakistan’ agenda to collect votes, BJP’s Northeast strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma told a poll rally in Assam’s closely contested seat, Silchar, on April 13, “PM is Modi, CM is (Sarbananda) Sonowal, I am the minister, Kishore Nath is the MLA (from BJP) here. In between this, what is the job of Sushmita Dev (the Congress candidate)? Everywhere is India, but there is a Pakistan in between. Will it work? No work will happen.” The North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) convenor was in Silchar mainly to divert voter interest from Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi’s road show scheduled a day later.
Sarma continued, “You can see that Sushmita Dev is very nervous. First, she brought Rahul Gandhi, then Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s friend Navjoy Singh Sidhu. Tomorrow again, she is bringing Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. She knows that she did nothing in the last five years and is sure to lose.”
As per local news reports, Priyanka Gandhi’s three-km-long road show in Silchar attracted a massive crowd. The Congress national leader equated the “fighting spirit” of Dev, the Mahila Congress president, with that of Indira Gandhi.
Addressing the voters of the Bengali-dominated town in the state’s Barak Valley on the Bengali New Year, Gandhi also criticised the Modi government for bringing in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. “Narendra Modi and his party have dishonoured the Indian Constitution by bringing in ‘amendments’ that are not people friendly,” she said. The Bill has clearly divided the majority Assamese community and the Bengali Hindus of the state. While massive protest was seen in the state’s Brahmaputra Valley against the Bill, there had been considerable support for it in the Barak Valley, considered a stronghold of BJP.
On April 11, Modi, addressing a rally, said his party would bring it again to parliament is voted to power. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has, however, categorically stated that his party would scrap it. It is in this context, Priyanka Gandhi’s public remarks in Silchar are significant.
An ‘inactive’ EC?
Meanwhile in Delhi, opposition leaders assembled at the Constitution Club to raise the issue of “unreliability” of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and threatened to approach the Supreme Court over the issue keeping in mind media reports on malfunctioning and alleged tampering of the machines during the first phase of voting. Addressing a press conference named ‘Save Democracy”, Congress leader Abhisekh Manu Singhvi said, “Questions were raised after the first phase of Lok Sabha elections. If you press the button before X party, vote goes to Y party. VVPAT displays only for 3 seconds, instead of 7 seconds.”
He told the media, “The Election Commission (EC) is not paying heed to our demand for transparency. Hence, we have no other option but to approach the Supreme Court.”
In Kerala though, a proactive EC, on April 14, delayed the state government’s decision to implement the extension of the moratorium on loans taken by farmers till December 2019. Media reports said a new directive to the Left government said it can implement it only after the state goes to polls on April 23. The state government has been widely criticised for delaying the order.