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New Delhi: There is one Modi everyone wants to catch a hold of in this election season.
The high-profile offender Nirav Modi, accused of defrauding Indian banks of around Rs 26,000 crore, was arrested in London on March 19 by the UK police. A day later, both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress tussled to take credit for his arrest.
Nirav Modi, just like another big economic offender Vijay Mallya, has become an eyesore for the Narendra Modi government. Over the last few months, both have turned into symbols of India’s inability to catch influential personalities who could work their way out of the system despite being in the wrong.
The “Modi” even the opposition wants
On Wednesday, BJP leaders left no stone unturned to claim that Nirav was arrested only because of the Modi government’s pressure on UK authorities. At least one Union minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, claimed, “You can run, but cannot hide from the country’s chowkidar”, around the same time his party trended #ChowkidaarNetsNirav on social media.
While Narendra Modi’s #MainBhiChowkidar campaign appears to have become the saffron party’s primary political plank over the last week, the Congress and other opposition forces wasted no time to say that the Modi government woke up from its slumber only because of the opposition’s persistent pressure.
As the grand old party took multiple digs at the the prime minister by anointing Nirav as “Chota Modi (younger Modi)”, it got timely support from its allies. National Conference leader Omar Abdullah tweeted, “It’s amusing to see the BJP falling over itself to credit the PM with the Nirav Modi arrest while completely ignoring the fact that it was The Telegraph of London & its correspondent who found Nirav Modi, not the PM and his agencies.”
As the Union government indicated that it will build up momentum to extradite Nirav, a section of international lawyers believed he may most likely be granted a bail soon. The celebrity jeweller was denied bail till March 29 by a UK court on Wednesday.
Can #MainBhiChowkidar backfire on the BJP?
Meanwhile, it appears that the ‘chowkidar’ campaign, which has taken social media by storm, may also boomerang on the saffron party.
The prime minister in his address to around 25 lakh security guards across India likened the Congress’s coinage #ChowkidarhiChorHai to an affront to the profession. “I have a habit and I urge you too to cultivate it, of turning abuses thrown at you into an ornament and go forward (gaali ko gehna banakar aagey badhein),” he said.
However, opposition leaders were quick to question whether he would ensure better wages and living conditions for security guards.
Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party chief, urged people to vote for Modi only if they want their children to become chowkidars – and asked them to vote for AAP if they wanted their children to become “doctors, engineers, or lawyers”.
मोदी जी पूरे देश को चोकीदार बनाना चाहते हैं।
अगर आप भी अपने बच्चों को चोकीदार बनाना चाहते हैं तो मोदी जी को वोट दें।
पर अगर आप अपने बच्चों को अच्छी शिक्षा देकर डाक्टर, इंजीनियर, वक़ील बनाना चाहते हैं तो पढ़े लिखे ईमानदार लोगों की पार्टी आम आदमी पार्टी को वोट दें
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) March 20, 2019
Probably for the first time, the BJP has taken a jibe used by the opposition – that of chowkidar – and spun it like the metaphorical “ornament” the prime minister described. Usually, it coins its own campaigns and lets the opposition respond to its narrative. “Chowkidar” isn’t like that – it was the word the opposition first used to describe the Modi government’s alleged corruption in the controversial Rafale aircraft deal.
And that has worked to the opposition’s advantage so far.
Here is what the former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and Samajwadi Party president had to say a few days ago:
It’s easy for the privileged to take on working class roles on social media.
The reality of these jobs: they‘re rooted in old caste structures + lack of opportunity.
The few who can afford guards can’t tell the rest to stand outside their gates.
Its time for a #MahaParivartan
— Akhilesh Yadav (@yadavakhilesh) March 17, 2019
Akhilesh has been at his witty best of late. The BJP has been hinting that it will field a sizeable number of new faces in the upcoming polls. This will mean that a number of sitting MPs will be shelved – a likely cause of resentment in the party ranks. One can only remember former Union minister and BJP stalwart Jaswant Singh saying that he was not a furniture which could be “adjusted” after he was denied a ticket in 2014.
Immediately after Anil Jain, the BJP secretary-in-charge of Chhattisgarh, announced that all its 10 MPs will be replaced with new candidates, Akhilesh questioned why everyone apart from Modi himself should take the fall. He said that the “formula (of fielding new candidates) must apply to Captain too.”
Mayawati opts out of Lok Sabha race
Meanwhile, Yadav’s alliance partner Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party announced that she won’t be contesting the Lok Sabha polls as she would like to campaign for the gatbandhan in all UP seats rather than focus on a single seat. The last time she fought for a Lok Sabha seat was in 2004, when she won from Akbarpur (now Ambedkar Nagar).
Meanwhile, despite the fact that the BJP has tried to project the upcoming parliamentary elections as almost a presidential contest, it has struggled to finalise even its first list of candidates. On Wednesday, the BJP’s central election committee met for the third time and could yet not announce any names. Most other parties have already announced the names of many of their candidates.
Some celebrity talk
As the run-ins between the Congress and BJP continued over the high unemployment rate and dynasty politics respectively, a new party from the south gained some attention. Actor-turned-politician Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) released its first list of 21 candidates for Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Many believe that although the MNM may not reap immediate electoral benefits, it may soon evolve into an anti-corruption crusader in Tamil Nadu – a challenging prospect for the dominant DMK and AIADMK.
Speaking of filmstars, an interesting battle is on cards even in the Hindi heartland. In all likelihood, rebel BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha may finally leave his party and switch over to the Congress. The grand old party, according to sources, will field him from his traditional Patna Sahib constituency in Bihar. Since the BJP is planning to field Union telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad from the seat, the clash may be epic.