Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament | Photo: Lok Sabha TV
Text Size:

Maine Congress ke ek neta ka kal ghoshana patra suna, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in the Lok Sabha Thursday. (“Yesterday, I heard the manifesto of a Congress leader.”)

He then went on to refer to Rahul Gandhi’s statement that in six months, India’s youth will start raining wooden rods (danda) on the prime minister. Modi, of course, did not mention that Rahul Gandhi made this forecast on account of rising unemployment in India.

But if you hadn’t heard Rahul Gandhi’s rally speech in Delhi the previous day, you wouldn’t know which Congress leader Modi was referring to. He did not mention Rahul Gandhi by name.

When Rahul Gandhi stood up to interject, PM Modi sharpened his attack further, calling Rahul Gandhi a slow “tubelight”. Once again, he did not say either Rahul or Gandhi.

Narendra Modi does name Rahul Gandhi on Twitter once a year – to wish him on his birthday. Modi had also named Rahul Gandhi while congratulating him on becoming the Congress president in December 2017. But these are perfunctory greetings.

In political speeches, I have never heard Narendra Modi say the words “Rahul Gandhi”. If you can find a rare instance, the exception will only prove the rule.


Also read: ‘Shehzada’ Rahul & Ahmed ‘Mian’ aren’t routine jibes on Congress, they are Modi’s bigotry


The signifier and the signified

In his early days as Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi famously referred to Rahul Gandhi as “shehzada,” Urdu for prince. It was a dog whistle of a kind, subtly equating Rahul Gandhi with Muslims.

In what was by far the most distasteful instance of Modi finding alternative ways to refer to Rahul Gandhi, he wondered early last year if an invention to help dyslexic students could also help 40-year-olds. He didn’t have to say who he was referring to. Everyone knew.

Around 2013, the BJP built Rahul Gandhi’s image as “Pappu”, a dim-witted boy. Modi’s campaign team has a ‘Pappupedia’ division to create and disseminate social media jokes and cartoons that depict Rahul Gandhi as dumb. I have met someone who was part of this team.

But Modi has himself never used the word ‘Pappu’, to the best of my knowledge.


Also read: This is how Modi is different from other Right-wing populists like Trump, Erdogan & Duterte


Never address your opponent by name

What would happen if Narendra Modi was to name Rahul Gandhi?

Modi seems to believe that naming an opponent actually helps him/her. If Modi uses the words ‘Rahul Gandhi’, it could make people think about Rahul Gandhi in many different ways. Someone might think of secularism, someone might think of farmers, someone might think of Rajiv Gandhi.

But that is not Modi’s purpose. He wants you to think of Rahul Gandhi in a particular, defined way. He wants you to think of Rahul Gandhi as a dim-witted person who is an object of ridicule. Modi wants to define his political opponents and make sure they are universally seen through the lens that he uses for them.

So, Modi keeps referring to Rahul Gandhi in various derogatory ways without actually naming him. “Congress ke ek yuva neta hain,” he once said, “Aaj kal bolna seekh rahe hain.” (There’s a young leader of the Congress; these days he is learning to speak.)

Another reason Modi doesn’t name Gandhi is that in doing so, he would elevate the Congress leader to his own stature. We might start seeing Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi as equals, two men in an akhara. Instead, Modi built up Smriti Irani as the answer to Rahul Gandhi.

Modi would rather be compared to Jawaharlal Nehru — and hence he keeps attacking Nehru non-stop. In the same speech where he was loath to take Rahul Gandhi’s name, he took Nehru’s name 23 times.


Also read: Legal autocrats are on the rise. They use constitution and democracy to destroy both


The attention game

This attention game is so central to politics — or at least the Modi version of it — that Modi takes his own name in his speeches, refers to himself in the third person.

It is difficult to forget the name of Hema Malini’s character in Sholay thanks to her famous dialogue: “Aapne Basanti se yeh to poocha hi nahi, ki Basanti tumhara naam kya hai?” (You never asked Basanti, what’s your name Basanti?)

The more you hear the word ‘Modi’, the more you will think about him. And the word ‘Modi’ could mean different things to different people.

While the opponents get derogatory nicknames, the constant use of the word ‘Modi’ by Modi, his party, the media, independent critics and the opposition helps create the sense that there is no one but Modi in national leadership.

There was a time, soon after demonetisation, that the word ‘Mitron’ (friends) became a joke. It was Modi’s signature style to begin his rally speeches with “Mitron” instead of the usual “bhaiyon aur behnon” (brothers and sisters). But when Mitron became a by-word for anti-Modi jokes, he quickly dropped it. Modi knows the power of signifiers.

Now we don’t joke about ‘Mitron’ anymore.

Home Minister Amit Shah does name Rahul Gandhi and other politicians he’s taking on. He wants to be seen as the BJP equivalent of all the top opposition leaders, in order to elevate Modi above everyone else on the battlefield. Modi is king, Shah the general.

Note that even Shah often refers to polenta with uncomplimentary suffixes such as “Kejriwal gang” or to Rahul Gandhi as “Rahul baba” to reinforce the accusation about Rahul being an immature politician. His style is closer to that of Donald Trump who does name his opponents but with a prefix: “Crooked Hillary” or “Crazy Bernie”.


Also read: The Modi playbook: Delay in PM condemning attacks on Kashmiris is part of a pattern


What did Duggal Sahab say? 

It is Rahul Gandhi’s mistake to use the words ‘Narendra Modi’ all too often. He could learn from Modi and stop using the word ‘Modi’.

In Priyanka Gandhi’s statements before cameras, I have seen her avoid the words ‘Narendra’ and ‘Modi’. She seems to get it.

This was also a problem with Rahul Gandhi’s “Chowkidar Chor Haislogan (the watchman is the thief). The slogan was a play on Modi’s claim that he was the nation’s watchman, or chowkidar. The slogan reminded people of how Modi wants to be seen: as a chowkidar. Sure enough, Modi did some ambush marketing and coined a counter-slogan, ‘Main bhi Chowkidar’, urging his supporters to join his symbolic project of ‘guarding the nation’.

It is not just Rahul Gandhi whose name Modi avoids taking. You will rarely see him name any opponent. It’s not as if Modi has been screaming ‘Kejriwal, Kejriwal’ or ‘Mamata, Mamata’, either.

There are anti-Modi influencers on Twitter who get this. They have coined phrases or alternative names like ‘Duggal sahab’ (reference to a movie character who becomes whatever person he needs to be, like a chameleon). Others call him “Gobhi ji”, Mr Cauliflower, just to avoid saying the word ‘Modi’.

In 2013, Congress supporters had coined the word ‘feku’ (bluffmaster) for Modi. Since Modi won the election, the name was dropped. And his opponents went back to calling him by his name, just the way Modi would like it to be.

This is why it is said, the more you attack Modi, the more he gains — but it’s true only if you refer to him directly – Narendra, Modi or NaMo – or if you attack him personally. Any attack on Modi that seems remotely personal can and will be used by him to play the victim. Why do his opponents give him just the attention he wants?

If you call for Modi to be beaten with sticks, he will call you a tubelight. Unlike you, he won’t even dignify you by taking your name. It is safest to attack Modi’s policies — Rahul Gandhi’s 2015 jibe of “suit-boot ki sarkar” did just that, without naming Modi or any industrialist friends that the PM allegedly wanted to help by amending the land acquisition law.

These are important elements of political communication in the Modi era. They have been out there for everyone to see since 2013. But, as Gobhi ji said, the current takes time to reach slow tubelights.

Here’s the challenge for Rahul Gandhi: give a full speech without saying the words “Narendra Modi”.

The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.

ThePrint is now on Telegram. For the best reports & opinion on politics, governance and more, subscribe to ThePrint on Telegram.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

42 Comments Share Your Views

42 COMMENTS

  1. Can’t understand the hate on the author. Nowhere does he in this article hate upon our PM.
    What Shivam states is very much true.
    Calling out PM sir by name gives him more publicity.
    Rahul would do well to not call out PM directly and not to speak disdainfully against PM as it’s against our culture to speak rudely against someone elder.

  2. THE BODY LANGUAGE OF THE MAN IN THE PARLIAMENT SAYS IT ALL! ONE DOES NOT EVEN NEED TO DESCRIBE IT . DID EVER ANY OTHER PM, APART FROM DEVE GOWDA, DISPLAY SUCH A BODY LANGUAGE ON THE FLOOR OF THE SO CALLED TEMPLE OF DEMOCRACY ? A PICTURE SPEAKS LOUDER THAN EVEN SPEECH IN THIS CASE

  3. THE MOST UNEDUCATED AND ILL BEHAVED PM EVER- DEVE GOWDA HAS A PROPER DIPLOMA IN CIVIL ENGINEERING WHICH CAN BE OBTAINED UNDER RTI – IS BEING DEIFIED AND EDIFIED BY A SIMPERING AND COWERING MEDIA AND BUREAUCRATS AND IMPOSTERS FOR INTELLECT JUST OBTAIN FAVOURS . IT IS TIME RAHU GANDHI CALLS HIM FEKU OR SHADOW GANG LEADER OF THE NAGPUR ‘S DIABOLICAL COTERIE

  4. It should be understood : 1) why Pakistan is being referred to( means Muslims and Hindu polarization).;Why Nehru the only Indian who has been the most dominant and most influential figure till date on the world scenario and who left all others , save Rajaji , smaller than him on the world stage ( inferiority complex?) and Why the Congress party ( means bee in the bonnet ,ie, Gandhis under whom economy has performed much better and society more coalesced than between 204-2020 ) . Do we need a further explanation? Rahul must never ever address this man by name under the principle give respect and take respect and do not give respect when there is no reciprocation. After all most, including journalists, do not know what late Ramakrishna Hegde , that suave and personable politician, had insisted of Advani in 1998 for an alliance between the BJP & Hegde’s Loka Shakti

  5. PM knows his most powerful and effective opponent. He invents several name to call him. All names invented are to discredit him in the eyes of public.
    However there is time limit to this trick. Trick will fail him as country is facing uphill task.
    It’s matter of days.
    He will start calling him by his name if he wants to pull his tenure longer.

  6. WHAT IS THE MORAL STATURE OF A MAN , WHO HID HIS MARRIAGE IN AFFIDAVITS AFTER AFFIDAVITS UNTIL IT BECAME TOO UNCOMFORTABLE TO HIDE IT ? WHAT IS ALSO THE MORAL STATURE OF A MAN , WHOSE EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATION CANNOT BE DISCLOSED, THAT IS, IF HE HAS ACQUIRED

  7. Modi does’t want to attack anyone directly as others do. That is his stature. Where is a dynasty Pappu and P M Modi. That is the glaring difference.

  8. THE MOST UNEDUCATED AND ILL BEHAVE PM EVER- DEVE GOWDA HAS A PROPER DIPLOMA IN CIVIL ENGINEERING WHICH CAN BE OBTAINED UNDER RTI – IS BEING DEIFIED AND EDIFIED BY A SIMPERING AND COWERING MEDIA AND BUREAUCRATS AND IMPOSTERS FOR INTELLECT JUST OBTAIN FAVOURS . IT IS TIME RAHU GANDHI CALLS HIM FEKU OR SHADOW GANG LEADER OF THE NAGPUR ‘S DIABOLICAL COTERIE

  9. Modi ji doesn’t require to name as the manner he says and by his body language every one knows for whom he has commented.
    Rahul Gandhi’s comments can’t be pardoned but his message through this comment should be seriously taken as the growing frustration among unemployed youths could be dangerous.

  10. Why are you (the author) being so critical of Modi, and favourable to Rahul Gandhi. How come you did not talk about Rahul calling Modi a chor ? is that ok with you ? and, for God’s sake, please do not compare Rahul Gandhi to Modi. The former is a immature and ignorant dynast, while Modi is a man of immense political experience and international standing.

  11. Long and short of this article is that Modi is clever he plans every move he makes either verbal or otherwise. Evidently, this methodology is beyond the capacity of Rahul Gandhi, whom none can accuse of being very intelligent. Why lament about it. Abuse has never helped win election. 2009 election proved it. BJP could not come to power by scolding or mocking Manmohan Singh. Indira Gandhi could not be defeated in 1971 or 1980 by abusing her.

  12. On one day in early 2019 this so called Prince ran up to the pm’s chair in the parliament…flailing his hands frantically… mouthing the hindi words ” utho utho utho” … like some bully would tell his pet-victim to get up and leave his chair… whereas the pm Mr modi was quietly seated in that chair…
    Mr Modi’s reaction was very much in order considering what was done to him…
    Now nothing anybody including Mr modi… does can be worse than that raga act…
    So those who comment here calling NaMo names… please look at these things after cleaning the glass of perception… to see the truth…

  13. I sometimes wonder if India had merit based system what would the author do? May be after being jobless he would be the first one to run after the PM with a danda 😉 I think he is the same author who said Dealth penalty should not be there in India. May be his thought flows from french revolutions and elitist societies…He is more pappu than any other pappu…
    Even I’m a pappu here as I read the whole clickbait article and commenting here adding visibility to this article..

  14. Rahul Gandhi is not a great leader as made out to be by the pliant media personnel who churn out the lyrics of his greatness day in day out. He is not even a person who good enough be called leader. The greatness has been thrust upon him without making any SWOT analysis of him by the family retainers. In which field he has acquired and exhibited performance ? Is he knowledgeable person ? Has he any administrative experience of running of any Government department ? Is he accomplished lawyer , CA, Engineer ,MBA, or having any professional degree ? Is he a great social worker and worked as reformer ? Is he all-knowing , Omani-present so-called journalist? NOTHING like that. He just happened to be born in ruling family and That was thought to be enough to make him legitimate claimant to the highest post in 130 years old political party and to the office of the Prime Minister of India . This type of thinking and practice was o.k. in 19th and some five six decades of 20th century. As most of Indian were/kept illiterate by the British colonial Government and its immediate successors. As Indian saw the rays of education , IT NEVER GAVE MAJORITY MARK IN NATIONAL ELECTIONS TO CONGRESS PARTY AFTER 1984.. So what ever Shivam Ji or his brand of journalists may write like a paid advertisement copy writer— THE VOTERS OF THE COUNTRY WILL EVALUATE HIM ON MANY PARAMETERS AND THEN DECIDE TO GIVE ITS APPROVAL TO ENTER even in the LOKSABH, not to speak of THE PMO. That is why he could not retain Amethi, the ancestral seat in 2019 elections. HE should be best advised to look for some safe seat for 2024 as Even voters in Kerala may not oblige him with second chance.

  15. Well I’ll say you sure have offered one of the perspectives; probably projected by speech guru’s; what is clearly lacking in RaGa is
    1. Personality- to present things or to make people believe in what he’s saying.
    2. Content- He’s absolute Zero on content of his speeches.
    3. Efforts- To stand against orator like Modi,you need to work double shift,has to have thorough research, flair for reading on different issues of national interest and above all statistics on tip of the fingers.
    4. Continuity: There’s is no linkages or continuity / consistency in RaGa’s speeches.

    Well to hone all these skills you need to start early,you need to intelligent and highly motivated. In conclusion, RaGa has missed the bus once and for all and there’s no 2nd chance or future or retrieval possible for him; he’s OVER.

  16. Seriously there seems to be something wrong with RG. Constantly berating the PM when it has failed to pay dividends every time, fits exactly into Einstein’s definition of insanity. RG needs to tell his potential voters what his plans for India are, if he wants to be taken seriously. Else he just comes as an entitled whiner. The PM’s own povertarianism and left wing big government beliefs gives RG an open field. All he needs to do is embrace aspirational India. Sadly RG with his suit boot Sarkar beliefs isn’t cut out for it.

  17. It is not about RG!! See the picture of NM !! The style he took by placing his arms looks like a third grade hindi film gunda only !1 Never ever any P.M stood like this.Uncultured, nasty and most uncalled for of a P.M!!

  18. It would have been better if Shivam had advised Rahul to get trained to speak like Modi for over 2 hours in Lok Sabha and then after some break, for over 1 hour in Rajya Sabha and study how he totally and effectively demolished Congress on anti-CAA. Whether you call Modi as Modi or Gobhi, Modi is Modi and people know what he is whether hate or like him. If Rahul has to be ready to become PM one day, he must learn to think, write and speak at least like any normal politician from BJP or Congress. But it is not Rahul who is really bothered about all this, as he knows that the position is bequeathed to him; rather it is Shivam who is feeling terribly let down and frustrated that even Rahul can not match Modi anywhere, after so many years of active politics.

  19. Well said.We have not seen or heard pre-TV era PMs on P- debate bt only heard about them about the honour and dignity with which they would conduct themself while referring to opposition leaders.We have seen heard PMs,likes of Gujral,Gauda,MMS,Atalji ..but my observations they too conducted themselves in very dignified way.I may be wrong but the way Modi, the PM conducts himself —the sarcasm, the insulting manner to show opposition down…perhaps something ingrained and part of manners no body can change.However unfortunately it is creating bad blood all round to unprecedented level never seen before in our country.Be prepared for a very tough confrontational days of of much more severity in coming fays.I shudder to think where the country is heading and to what consequences?

  20. Mr Gandhi used to be called ‘pappu’ during his time at St Stephen’s College. Everyone in Delhi of a certain generation refer to him because he was considered ‘budhu’. Unfortunately, that stuck.

    Coming back to monikers however.. while ‘suit boot ki sarkar’ may have worked politically, it prevented much needed land reforms from going through. Mr Gandhi needs to move on from the DU jhola student politician vibe if he wants to be taken seriously. One way to do so would be to actually do something instead of talking about it.

  21. Rahul is not dim – this myth is another BJP-IT-cell manufacture. and even sensible people like the author seem to have swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

  22. Feku remains Feku to many – he keeps faking it. let us see how long his act of lip service to Gandhi and puja to Godse will last.

    • Except for Vajpayee and Advani there are no leaders of note to fall back upon. They don’t much celebrate SP Mukherjee may be he is not the founder of BJP but of the now defunct JS. So they extol Gandhi and Patel not forgetting their Gujarati origins.

  23. Someone in your team should analyse the fall in the dignity of speech of this man from the days when he was the darling of the intellectual class (or a majority of them) to the present day when he is hated, despised, pitied upon by anyone who has some common sense. The man is stooping to lower and lower levels to retain what he thinks is his following.

  24. This is all this Modi ca do. Stand in parliament and perform a third rate nautanki. Solve the country’s pressing problems, nope he’s clueless on that. Denial is his default position. We Indians must be most uncivilised that we chose this 5th class fail for. Prime Minister!!

    • U must be Pappu?Check All speeches tat Manmohan gave and compare them to Modiji’s and e real cla that Modiji a and affection to te Aam Admi and not lootera that Congres Politician are.

  25. Seems like so many are willing to tutor Rahul Gandhi and are possibly tutoring, but he still doesn’t learn. So what should we say about him?

  26. Rahul: “I can conduct a whole 1-hour debate without ever mentioning the name. I am so strong-willed that he shall always remain unnamed. forever. I won’t mention the name even if Narendra Damodardas Modi himself implores me to!”

  27. ”disseminate social media jokes and cartoons that depict Rahul Gandhi as dumb” Well, he is a dumb. I cannot think him as the leader of the nation. there are others in the Congress who would make better leaders than him. He is useless.

  28. Shivam Vij – My sources tell me that Tubelight aka Pappu aka Rahul Gandhi will soon be advertising for the post of personal tutor. Keep your CV ready as you have the potential for doing well in that role.

  29. Fair points. However, much as I despise the unnamed prime minister and his goon home minister Rahul Gandhi is dim-witted. The Congress should jettison the Gandhi family but they can’t as they control the purse strings

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here