Instead of hope, Narendra Modi’s state election campaign has been marked by an unusual anger.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week took the battle to the bastions of the Congress leaders in Madhya Pradesh, going to Chhindwara (from where Congress leader Kamal Nath has been elected a record nine times) and Gwalior (from where Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia has been elected four times), along with Shahdol and Indore. Everywhere, he was greeted by enormous crowds.
Modi knows the fight in Rajasthan is tough and some say the fight in Madhya Pradesh could be close. Chhattisgarh, which votes today in the second phase, and Madhya Pradesh, which votes 28 November, have been ruled by the BJP for 15 years.
Remarkably, Modi’s campaign has been marked not so much by his inimitable sense of humour where he diminishes the candidate simply by gently poking fun at him/her – flashes of that were also seen – but by an unusual anger.
It all began in Ambikapur, Chhattisgarh, last week when the Prime Minister, seemingly riled by Shashi Tharoor’s remark on how Nehru laid the foundation of such a fantastic republic that even a ‘chaiwala’ could become PM, lashed out at the Congress.
“When they ask you why this road had not been built, you ask them what they had done in 55 years. Ask them: ‘You were around for four generations but why didn’t you do it? Did you lay water pipelines? Did your nana-nani, dada-dadi (grandparents) lay it?’” Modi said.
The attack on the Congress dynasty is notable in this election. Rahul Gandhi is “naamdaar”, Modi never takes his name, while Sonia Gandhi is simply ‘Madam’.
Everywhere “naamdaar” goes, in every gali-mohalla, said Modi at a rally in Madhya Pradesh, he says that the Congress will set up a mobile factory in Ujjain or Chhindwara or Gwalior… Made in Ujjain, Made in Chhindwara, Made in Gwalior… Does the Congress have “Made in… ” mobile in its manifesto?
Modi added: “Jab Madam ki remote control ki sarkar thi, tab mobile factories sirf do theen, jab se chaiwale ki sarkar aayi hai, tab se kitna vikas hua hai? (When Sonia Gandhi ran her remote control government in Delhi, there were only two mobile factories, but look at the kind of progress I have delivered in four years).”
Tharoor’s upper-class ‘chaiwala’ remark, which reeks of a lack of grace, seems to have really hurt the PM.
Again in Shahdol, in MP, the PM said: “I am throwing you a challenge: let us compare four decades of your work and four years of chaiwala…”
He added: “Munh me ram, bagal main churi (The Congress leaders speak of Ram, but keeps a knife by their side).”
Rahul Gandhi says we will do politics with love, said Modi, but here in Madhya Pradesh they are only instigating the people. “Modi didn’t do this, Shivraj didn’t do that. If they are saying why there are no roads in MP, no schools, ask them back, ‘What did you do for 55 years?’ Why are they asking now that no work has been done, when the Congress didn’t do any work itself.”
“Did you put a lock on your brain for 55 years? (Tab tumhare dimaag ko taala lag gaya tha kya?) Is this the first time you have figured out the meaning of vikas?” the PM asked.
“Now we have come to know how much the emperor of lies is lying (‘jhoot ke shahenshah kitna jhoot bolte hain’), even at night when they talk in their sleep, they lie,” he added.
It’s not clear whether MP’s voters are asking ‘Narendra Modi ko gussa kyon aata hai’, and whether his anger will persuade them to press the BJP button in the ballot boxes.
Note that Tharoor’s avoidable ‘chaiwala’ remark, at least so far, hasn’t set the Ganga on fire. Remember how Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s similarly graceless remark on the eve of the 2014 elections had created such waves of abhorrence that many people, who wavered on the fence, went and stamped their ballot papers simply because they didn’t like Aiyar’s discourtesy?
By now, Modi’s remark in Chhattisgarh on former Congress president Sitaram Kesri (how the Congress “locked him in a bathroom,” removed him from the party presidentship and “threw him on the footpath and put Madam Sonia in his place,” just because he was a Dalit) has become well-known.
The fact is Kesri was not a Dalit, but hailed from the Bania caste.
Modi also attacked former Congress chief minister Digvijaya Singh over the pathetic condition of Madhya Pradesh when he ruled it 15 years ago. “What did Diggy Raja do 15 years ago? You threw him out, didn’t you?” The crowd burst into cathartic joy.
This reminder of what Madhya Pradesh once was, when conditions in the state during Digvijaya Singh’s tenure 15 years ago were pathetic, is made again and again. As if Modi is telling the people that voting for the Congress will bring back those dark and fearful days.
But Modi also, ably, juxtaposes anger with hope: “When I was in Gujarat and (sitting chief minister Shivraj Singh) Chouhan was in MP, we had to undertake fasts when the Congress government in Delhi stopped the work in Sardar Sarovar dam. I promise you, if you vote us again, I will join Delhi’s engine with MP’s engine and make all your dreams come true,” Modi said at a rally.
“Yeh milaai khaane ke khilaf meri ladayi hai (This is my fight against corruption),” he said again and again, pointing out that the reason the Congress was so angry about demonetisation was because the cash they had hoarded over the years overnight became worthless.
“Anyone crying about notebandi? Anyone? Congress is crying because four decades of wealth (that) they have accumulated has gone,” Modi said in Madhya Pradesh.
A last appeal to the crowd in packed Gwalior: “We will not let the Congress step inside MP, this should be our promise. History stands witness (itihaas gavah hai) to 55 years of Congress, 15 of BJP”.
One thing is clear in Madhya Pradesh. If an angry Narendra Modi can pull Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s chestnuts out of the fire, he stands a real chance.