As Gujarat campaign ends, Modi is man of the match
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done it again. He has gifted the Opposition fresh masala to accuse him of “lowering the dignity of the Prime Minister’s office”. But, Modi is not an accidental politician like Mani Shankar Aiyar. Modi is not Mani – a habitual trigger-happy motor mouth. He is also not a “shoot and scoot” political campaigner a la Kejriwal or Rahul Gandhi. He would have chosen his words advisedly clearly anticipating the reactions it has triggered.
Modi’s statements have been subjected to intense scrutiny even before he became Prime Minister. Any minor slip or rhetorical licence have always been pilloried to make the much more obnoxious insults hurled at him appear innocuous. The refrain has always been the same. Unable to counter him on facts, the liberal elite has unfailingly pronounced him guilty of demeaning the political discourse.
However, that does beg the question, who sets the bar after all? Modi, like Trump, was seen as a gatecrasher in the left-lib party. They were willing to let him in provided he behaved as one of them. But since he refused to conform to the rules of the club, he was promptly declared a trespasser in the august gathering.
Yet, that has not deterred Modi from speaking his mind. And, I will be surprised if he changes his style in the coming days. Though not as abrasive as Trump, Modi represents the new class of politicians who gives it back as good as he gets. Elections provide him with the opportunity to vent his feelings that he has to otherwise keep in check as a Prime Minister, when he can at best speak in subtle innuendos (as he did at Hamid Ansari’s farewell).
Though Modi’s statements cause flutter in mainstream (primarily English news channels) and social media, the outrage does not influence his core constituency at whom the message was addressed. Nor does it help in burying the original abuse and slander that Modi was subjected to and only reinforces his image of an underdog among the privileged political class.
The latest controversy surrounding Modi’s insinuations about the dinner diplomacy of opposition leaders with a Pakistani delegation at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s residence is a case in point. Despite pressing the unmute button hard with rightful indignation, Manmohan Singh’s voice did not quite stir the nation. The storm created in the media has remained confined to the echo chambers of Lutyens Delhi. It is doubtful to what extent it has affected Indians at large and, in particular, the electorate in Gujarat. For them, Narendra Modi has been a star on the global stage and the digs about Dokla and Dhokla do not cut ice.
The opposition has been consistently targeting Modi on form rather than content. As a result they miss the narrative. This time around in Gujarat, Congress thought they had two big talking points, namely GST and Demonetisation. It was, perhaps, right in diagnosing that these two issues were still raw with Gujaratis, especially the trading community. But, before long, Modi neutralised the dissonance on GST through rollback and on Demonetisation positioned himself as a potential martyr for taking on the rich and mighty corrupt of the country. By taunting Modi as Gabbar Singh, Rahul Gandhi naively turned it into a personal battle with the son of the soil, who had done his people proud by becoming the Prime Minister. This was a one-way street from which Rahul could not retreat till the end.
People listen to what they want to hear. The left tilted media went on complaining throughout the campaign that, development or “vikas” has been given a short shrift in these elections by Modi and the BJP. Nothing can be further from the truth.
A careful analysis of Modi’s election speeches would show a large part of all his addresses were devoted to development. While he did talk at length about national projects like Jan Dhan Yojana, Ujala, Ujjwala Insurance etc., each of his speeches contained something specific about the development of that particular region during his tenure as Chief Minister. Everywhere he picked on some visible development like electricity, roads, water and industry that the local people could easily relate to.
The jibes and barbs were usually reserved till the end, which he used as icing on the cake, for folks to return with a sweet taste in the mouth. But, usually it was only those bits that were picked up by the media and dominated the upper-class national discourse for Rahul Gandhi and the Congress spokespersons to bite into.
Deflected off the track, Congress strategists sent Rahul Gandhi on a temple trail and shifted gear instead to fixing caste equations with Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor. This drew them away further away from the original discourse leaving Rahul Gandhi taking trite pot shots at Modi, such as favouring a few industrialist friends, promising unreal caste reservation and offering carrots of populist sops such as cheap meals and free healthcare. In short, instead of peaking Rahul Gandhi’s campaign was drained of substance by the end.
Nothing could have captured the ending better than the two sights of Rahul Gandhi fumbling at a press-conference reading from chits passed on by his aides and Narendra Modi flying off from the Sabarmati on a sea-plane in style.
The last word on the elections will, of course, be only known on December 18. But, as far as the campaign goes, Narendra Modi has yet again walked away with the Oscars.