New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been holding ‘virtual rallies’ since 7 June to connect with the people and showcase the Narendra Modi government’s achievements of the last six years.
Senior BJP leaders and Union ministers, including Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, and Nitin Gadkari, have already addressed 18 rallies, and over 55 more are in the offing.
While these rallies signal a return to politics in the time of Covid, the leaders’ speeches have broadly five takeaways, ranging from the enumeration of the achievements of the NDA government to attacks on opposition parties. The central theme of these rallies is: The Modi government has done in six years what the opposition parties managed to do in six decades.
PM Modi is a strong and decisive leader
In all the speeches delivered by BJP leaders and ministers, there is a major thrust towards highlighting PM Modi as a strong and decisive leader who doesn’t shy away from taking bold decisions, such as the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
This seems to be aimed at countering criticism that the government mishandled the migrant crisis amid the lockdown, and allegations about the lack of a roadmap to bring the economy back on track.
BJP leaders praise PM Modi profusely, emphasising that his efforts in managing the Covid crisis have been recognised by the world. Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, for instance, termed PM Modi as one of the most “respected and recognised” leaders in the world during his virtual rally in Madhya Pradesh, while Defence Minister Rajnath Singh showered praise on the PM for taking “bold and timely” decisions for which the world has taken note of him.
Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP chief J.P. Nadda compared Modi to former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, on whose appeal the entire country had fasted for a day during the war against Pakistan in 1965.
India’s Covid management better than most
With India emerging as the fourth worst-affected country after the US, Russia and Brazil in terms of the number of Covid-positive cases, the BJP leaders are seeking to impress on the people that the Modi government has handled the crisis better than most countries.
Rajnath Singh lauded Modi’s “timely decision” of going for a lockdown when countries like the US were struggling, and emphasised that even the World Health Organization lauded his leadership in these trying times.
The leaders are spending a lot of time listing measures taken by the government to tackle Covid-19, which is not just crucial because of upcoming elections, but also as a counter to the allegations made by the opposition. The idea is to shift the narrative from focusing on the failures or mistakes of the government to what it has done, despite falling into a health crisis.
Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani, for instance, spoke at length about the Vande Bharat Mission that brought back 1.75 lakh Indians living abroad, and the shramik special trains that ferried lakhs of migrant workers to their villages.
Leaders also mentioned the economic package announced by the finance ministry as well as the steps taken by BJP-ruled states to emphasise how all these efforts have given India the strength to deal with the impact of the pandemic.
Allaying national security concerns
With the ongoing stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh as well as a territorial dispute with Nepal, the opposition Congress has been seeking to target the NDA government, and the BJP leaders have sought to allay concerns, without going into the specifics of the Chinese intrusions or the Nepalese claims on the Kalapani region.
The leaders have referred to India’s surgical strike on terror infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the Balakot strikes to showcase the Modi government’s strong and uncompromising stance on national security.
Amit Shah, for instance, mentioned the strikes to counter-attack the Congress on the issue of national security. “There was a time when anybody used to enter our borders, behead our soldiers, and Delhi’s darbar remained unaffected,” Shah said during his virtual rally for Bihar.
There was a time when anybody used to enter our borders, beheaded our soldiers and Delhi's darbar remained unaffected. Uri and Pulwama happened during our time, it was the Modi & BJP govt, we did surgical strikes & airstrike: Home Minister Amit Shah pic.twitter.com/An4Qxh18LH
— ANI (@ANI) June 7, 2020
Even Defence Minister Rajnath Singh Monday, during his virtual rally for Uttarakhand, raised the issue of tensions between Nepal and India, and praised the efforts of PM Modi. He said if the road built by India up to Lipulekh has led to any misunderstanding with the people of Nepal, then the issue will be resolved through a process of dialogue as India and Nepal are bound together by “roti and beti” (a metaphorical way to describe people-to-people contact), which no power in the world can break.
Gadkari mentioned the China issue and said it is being resolved amicably as India doesn’t want a single inch of “their land”, or that of Pakistan.
Attacks on opposition parties
Opposition leaders like Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee and Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav have been critical of the Modi government, but the BJP leaders have used their virtual rallies to ridicule such leaders — Gandhi’s virtual conversations with experts in particular.
A lot of emphasis has been laid on states where elections are due — the Bihar assembly polls and the Madhya Pradesh bypolls later this year, and the West Bengal assembly elections in 2021.
The BJP does not want to give any room to the opposition to change the narrative that even in testing times, it has managed to deliver.
Shah cornered the opposition for going missing-in-action during Covid-19. He targeted West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for her handling of the crisis, and said it is the only state that witnessed violence in this time. The home minister not only slammed Banerjee for not implementing the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat health insurance scheme, but went on to say it is because of such actions by chief ministers that people trust Modi even more, since he works for everyone.
Rajnath Singh, meanwhile, targeted Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray in his Jan-Samvad rally for the state, criticising his “failure to contain Covid-19” and comparing the state’s governance to a “circus”.
The Hindutva plank
The BJP leaders’ speeches have also dwelled on the Hindutva plank and the BJP’s core ideological issues. Smriti Irani, for example, thanked the PM for taking significant steps like scrapping Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, passing the Citizenship Amendment Act and paving the way for the construction of a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
The Ram Mandir was part of the BJP’s manifesto for the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 too, and the leaders emphasise that even though it is being constructed on the orders of the Supreme Court, the Modi government has played a crucial role all along.
Amit Shah mentioned CAA during his West Bengal rally and slammed CM Mamata Banerjee for opposing it, going to the extent of saying that this move would turn her into a “political refugee”.
“Very soon Mamata ji will become a political refugee if she continues to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act,” he said.
Nitin Gadkari, meanwhile, said the BJP has stuck to its ideology and cleared all the hurdles that came in the way of the construction of the Ram Mandir.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.