In the past month, since the Pulwama attack, the behaviour of three Congress leaders and the prime minister have stripped bare the manner in which they approach power.
Only three days before Pulwama, on 11 February, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra stood on top of an open bus and pumped up the Congress party’s adrenalin as she kicked off her road show in Lucknow. She has since chosen to confabulate only behind the scenes, while collecting a huge fan following on Twitter, over 230,000 people. But she hasn’t tweeted even once.
Her brother, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, is still obsessing over Masood Azhar. On Sunday, he tweeted a likely photoshopped image of then IB official and now National Security Director Ajit Doval on the tarmac in Kandahar in 1999, handing over the man who would go on to become the head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed in exchange for the hijacked passengers of IC-814. On Monday, Gandhi called the JeM chief “Masood Azhar ji”, a misapplied taunt if there was one.
Meanwhile, 72-year-old Sonia Gandhi, who handed over the Congress to her beloved son two years ago, has emerged from the mothballs and announced she will fight from Rae Bareli.
There are three power centres in the Congress party, make no mistake. Between their silence and their garrulousness and despite Priyanka’s presence at the Congress Working Committee in Ahmedabad Tuesday, indecision seems writ large on the grand old party.
In sharp contrast, Narendra Modi’s energy and incredible ambition is there for anyone to see. He knows he needs to win Election 2019. Too much is at stake if he slips now.
So, over the last month, PM Modi has criss-crossed large parts of the country, to Vrindavan, Kurukshetra, Jhansi, Yavatmal, Dhule, Barauni, Varanasi and Kanyakumari. He hasn’t hesitated to mix political rallies with government work. He has thrown in a day’s travel to Korea to receive the Seoul Peace Prize. The day before the IAF air strikes against Pakistan he inaugurated the National War Memorial in the heart of Delhi, although the President would have been better suited to do the honours. On Sunday, he appeared natty in a hat as the chief guest of the CISF Day Parade, even though this is legitimately Home minister Rajnath Singh’s turf.
In this past week, two slogans have dominated Modi’s rhetoric. The first, “hum ghar main ghus ke maarenge” (“We will hit you where it hurts, in your own house”), a message of retaliation after the air strikes, which is beginning to resonate across large parts of north India.
The Right-wing Hindu activists who beat up the Kashmiri traders in Lucknow last week were perhaps encouraged by this slogan. As for the PM, it took him more than three days to criticise the criminals in what, as my colleague writes in ThePrint, seems to be a clear pattern of delayed reaction.
The second slogan, “Modi hai to mumkin hai”, is another example of how Modi loves to speak of himself in the familiar third person. He uttered these lines only last Friday at a rally in Kanpur. It has already become the heart of a major advertising campaign for the elections.
As the country moves on from the Balakot strikes, the importance of national security versus unemployment rises and falls depending on whom you ask. Only last week, two poll trackers have put out contradictory results. The CVoter-IANS poll says unemployment was rated as the most important issue, by as much as 29 per cent of the population in January, but had fallen to 22 per cent after the Balakot strikes; while the importance of national security had gone up from 2.6 per cent in January to 26 per cent today.
Psephologist Yashwant Deshmukh of CVOTER said the “current atmospherics go in favour of PM Modi.”
But according to an India Today poll, unemployment remains a top concern for at least 36 per cent of the population, while terrorism/national security comes second, with 23 per cent.
Alongside are intriguing comments by Modi’s two senior-most colleagues, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Roads & Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari. Writing in his blog Monday, Jaitley predictably dismissed the opposition alliance against the PM and listed out why he thought it would either be “Modi or chaos” in the coming election.
He went on to add, unusually, that even within the NDA, “there are no leadership issues. There is absolute clarity. Shri Narendra Modi leads the NDA and will be the Prime Minister in the event of the NDA victory. His leadership is nationally accepted, his ratings are very high. His track record speaks for itself”.
Even as a mystified public read between the lines to ask whether this meant that there was, indeed, a leadership issue in the NDA, Gadkari, in a Sunday interview to PTI, tried to put at rest the rising speculation that he could be a likely alternative to Modi for the PM’s chair. He made it clear that neither he nor the RSS had any interest in this happening.
“I do not see dreams, neither I go to anyone nor I do any lobbying. I am not in this race… I am telling you from my heart,” Gadkari said.
Certainly, the stage is being set for Modi’s automatic re-elevation to the top job if the BJP wins or even becomes the single largest party after the elections. Unlike in 2013, when senior BJP leader L.K. Advani absented himself from the BJP parliamentary board meeting that named Modi the prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 polls, while Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi were persuaded to drop their reservations, this time around Modi stands taller than any other BJP leader.
It certainly helps that at this crucial stage, the Congress has put itself in self-harm’s way. Unless the Gandhi troika decide to unravel their deep-seated inhibitions about family and demonstrate a common hunger to provide an alternative to Modi’s way, Modi pretty much seems on top of the charts.
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