Politics

#PollVault: Haters Are Going to Hate, but Rahul Gandhi Will Just Shake It Off

As the campaign discourse spirals into nastiness, Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata plunged parts of the city into an open melee between BJP workers and Trinamool students.

New Delhi: Tuesday, May 14, confirmed the words of a famed singer: That players will play, and haters will hate; breakers will break, and fakers will fake. In the final week of this endless election season, all you can do is shake it off.

Players will play

Former cricketer and political chameleon Navjot Singh Sidhu finally hit the campaign trail in his home state – just hours after his wife told the press he would not be campaigning in Punjab, indicating some hurt feelings (Sidhu had been left out of Rahul Gandhi’s earlier itinerary).

By Tuesday, however, he was in top form, playing to the crowds in Amritsar, along with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and chief minister Amarinder Singh, promising a ‘knockout punch’ to the Badals of the Shiromani Akali Dal.

In another humorous gambit that fooled nobody, Sidhu’s press team announced on Monday that he had worn out his vocal chords after addressing 80 rallies in 28 days. His doctors advised two to four days of resting them. Well. Let’s hope they don’t see any video from his roadshow with Priyanka, later on Tuesday, in Pathankot:

Haters will hate

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath continued a bitter tirade, telling a rally that “whenever there is a crisis in the country, Rahul moves to Italy” and that “Congress’ ‘Shehjadi’ [Priyanka] and her brother…should better move to Italy and ask for votes there.”

Continuing on the theme, he described Christian Michel, prime accused in the Agusta-Westland helicopter case, as Rahul’s “Shakuni Mama,” and added: “He belongs to Italy.” Michel is actually British.

Adityanath – who had been repeatedly charged with hate speech (prompting a cover-up by his own state government) – was newly embittered after the West Bengal election commission denied him permission to hold a meeting in South Kolkata.

The tension between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Trinamool Congress, already high, have spiked even higher ahead of the final phase of voting. On Monday, BJP national secretary Sunil Deodhar said West Bengal was in “an undeclared emergency” (a phrase that his former colleagues, Arun Shourie and Yashwant Singh, have applied to the rest of India under Modi).

Deodhar also accused a district magistrate and the CEO of the election commission of “working as agents of ruling Trinamool Congress.”

Breakers will break

The bureaucrats’ decision may have been vindicated, in fact, by the public violence and vandalism that followed party president Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata. As the saffron parade passed by the College Street campus of Calcutta University, it was reportedly met with black flags and jeers of “Amit Shah, go back” from members of the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad, the student wing of the ruling party in the state.

What happened next is, obviously, disputed. According to a report in The Indian Express, “Angered by the protest, BJP workers, including ABVP activists, threw water bottles, bricks, stones and sticks … charged towards the students and broke barricades put up by the police, who soon found that they were outnumbered.”

Also read: The Changing Faces of Political Violence in West Bengal

Two kilometres down the road, at Vidyasagar College in Bidhan Sarani, the violence was repeated. TMC cadre allegedly flung stones at the roadshow; in response, Shah’s supporters set three motorbikes on fire, tried to pull down the college gates, and destroyed a bust of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, a scholar and women’s-rights advocate of the Bengal Renaissance, after whom the college is named.

As of Tuesday night, the state election commissioner had not said ‘I told you so’.

However, a delegation of senior BJP leaders, including Union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, met the Election Commission late on Tuesday to demand a flag march and other strong measures to assure free and fair polling in West Bengal.

Fakers will fake

The prime minister’s weekend interview to the TV channel News Nation continued to draw snark and skepticism, including from his principal rival. At an afternoon rally in Neemuch in Madhya Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi made fun of Modi’s story that he made the Balakot airstrikes happen on time, by suggesting that the Indian Air Force use cloud cover to defeat enemy radar.

Also read: Unlike Radar and Clouds, PM Narendra Modi Can Leap Over the Walls of Science

“Modi ji, whenever it rains in India, do all aircraft disappear from the radar?” Rahul asked, and suggested that the prime minister get past “clouds and mangoes” and talk about real issues instead. Over in Bathinda, Punjab, Priyanka Gandhi took up the same refrain, saying, “Whether there’s a storm or cloudy weather, the facts about Modi are now on the radar of the Indian people.”

By evening, the Congress party president had switched to a more expansive mood, claiming to reject the vicious climate that has hung over the election. Speaking in Ujjain, Rahul said he would shake off the comments about his father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, made by Modi. “Modiji talks with hatred… I will die, but will never insult his mother and father.”

“I will return him love if hatred is thrown at me…,” Rahul concluded. “We will defeat Modiji with love, hugging you.” Something else to look forward to when the new parliament convenes.

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