By Deepak Jha:
India is a great country and, among other things, its electoral politics is a great thing to watch after of course India-Pakistan cricket matches. Pre-election campaigning by the leaders of political parties is always a mixed bag of truth, bitterness, barbs and lies. With every party trying its best to win over the trust of voters and supersede the competitors, rationality dies a thousand deaths. This happens when they get swept away in their emotional outpourings against the opponent and lose control over their words. This greatly hampers their electoral chances and ultimately results in their loss.
As there is no bigger politician in India than the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also considering his immense engrossment unlike previous prime ministers in electoral politics whenever assembly elections are being held, I would like to try and discuss some of his biggest mistakes in electoral speeches that were not just a slip of the tongue. The examples would be from the Delhi assembly election, the Bihar elections and the campaign trails of the Bengal and Kerala elections.
The Delhi election of 2015 saw an unprecedented rise in verbal scuffs between the BJP and its infamous opponent AAP (Congress was nowhere in the competition). Generally, these kinds of conflicts do not wait for the election as both parties are in a constant brawl over almost any issue. The Delhi election was a battleground where not only the BJP leaders from the capital but the entire cabinet ministry including the leaders from other states were called upon by the leadership to defeat a newly formed amateur party with only 49 days of experience in government. Apart from that, there was the constant vigil of the PM in the capital whose was a prime face in many big and small rallies of BJP.
The over involvement of the prime minister of the country in the assembly election of a Union Territory was the first blunder the BJP leadership made that irked even the supporters of the party. If this was not going to be enough, the PM’s jibes at Arvind Kejriwal calling him a Naxalite, a CIA agent and referring to him as ‘AK-49’ did further damage to the image of the PM and the party as a whole.
Quoting Modi, “Those who call themselves anarchists should join the Naxals in the jungles. Anarchism does not belong to Delhi”. He even went on to add that Kejriwal was a Pakistani agent against whom he did not take any action later, but that is a different story. Kejriwal replied to the accusation by saying that such language does not suit the prime minister of a country.
The BJP and the PM suffered a major blow after AAP won a historic mandate sparing only three seats to BJP out of 70, partly as a result of this.
After the big loss in Delhi to Kejriwal, the BJP leadership seems not to have learnt and once again fielded the PM as a prime campaigner against the Nitish-Laloo duo in the Bihar assembly elections of 2015. BJP assumed that it was going to be a cake walk for them considering the corruption-tainted Laloo Yadav being allied with the otherwise ‘clean’ Nitish Kumar. Once again the PM started flying regularly to Bihar for his campaign rallies and a war of the words broke out in the state.
While Nitish Kumar kept quiet and was sober in his remarks, it was Laloo who responded to each and every accusation of Narendra Modi. PM was quoted saying: “He (Nitish) not only disrespected me after cancelling dinner for us but has also humiliated a mahadalit chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi for removing him from his post. It seems there is a problem in his DNA as DNA of democracy doesn’t function like this”. This DNA remark of him had a huge impact on their prospects and Nitish came back on this strongly and even asked the people of Bihar to send a sample of their DNA to Narendra Modi. JDU readily linked this with Bihar’s pride.
All this brought BJP and its star election campaigner, Narendra Modi to a new low and as a result, the BJP faced another humiliating defeat where it got only 53 seats out of 243 seats.
The BJP think tank again relied on the PM for its electoral pursuits in assembly elections in the recently concluded elections in the four states and one union territory.
Mamata Bannerjee has a strong foothold in West Bengal and the CPI(M) is the only possible alternative to the TMC with the Congress being another important group. Though BJP tried to gain ground on the campaign trail but lost the chance again, thanks to yet another set of disappointments by the PM. Mr. Modi decoded TMC as ‘terror, maut and corruption‘ during one of his rallies, which likely did not go down well with the masses.
The flyover mishap which recently happened in Kolkata in which many people lost their lives was used as an opportunity by the Indian PM who equated it with an ‘act of God’ claiming that it was God’s message to save the people from TMC. The mishap seems to be a case of corruption which has to be dealt with legally. Using the tragedy for electoral benefit was uncalled for. This analogy was unacceptable from a prime minister and if the BJP doesn’t do well in Bengal, which seems quite likely, this comment will haunt the BJP.
Kerala remains on the top in most of the development indices in the country, especially the Human Development Index which is the cumulative score for most of the developmental markers. It was certain that the BJP’s campaign here was going to be futile considering the fact that it again brought in Narendra Modi who would once again boast of the ‘Gujarat Model’ without realising that the ‘Kerala Model’ keeps itself miles ahead of Gujarat on almost every indicator. The small crowds in the rallies of Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah proved exactly that.
In the midst of all that, PM Modi again came up with his verbally best (or worst) claim that the infant mortality rate in tribal regions of Kerala is worse than the African country Somalia. There was tremendous condemnation of the statement from all quarters on social media which rebuked the PM’s knowledge of his own country. The statement in fact insulted him since he was the prime minister of the country of which Kerala is a part. The outrage refuses to die out since the analogy is extremely vague and facts are against him. Besides, Gujarat fares much worse than Kerala in terms of IMR!
The #PoMoneModi hashtag heavily trended on twitter after the completely unwarranted statement which clearly shows how much he has hurt the Keralites who seem to have made up their mind to push Modi and the BJP away in these elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always boasted that one may question other things, but nobody can question his political understanding. The above series of mishandling of political situations clearly disapproves this. It has been often been seen in election rallies that Narendra Modi forgets that he is the PM now and not a party member who can speak garbage and get away with it. His often insensitive and factually incorrect speeches and barbs get noticed easily and become a matter of ridicule on social media.
It seems that he is still in the pre-2014 mode when he would verbally tear apart Congress and other opponents. He needs to understand that the same cup of tea cannot be sold over and over again. A careful and informed vocalisation is what is required on his part. Verbal attacks on the opposition need to be sugar coated for one simple yet big reason – he is the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy. But that doesn’t guarantee his victory which completely depends on what his government does on grassroots issues like social justice, poverty, farmers suicides, price rise, etc. and his actions on the electoral promises that seem distant so far.