Narendra Modi at BJP executive council meet: In clash of ideologies, party stands between Idea of India and Congress
As the 2019 battle draws near, the lines are getting rapidly drawn. BJP president Amit Shah’s inaugural speech at the two-day BJP national convention on Friday revealed the party’s campaign agenda. The Lok Sabha elections will be set in terms of a civilizational clash — a third battle of Panipat, for instance, where competing ideologies will clash, and failure will ostensibly take India back by a few decades.
Through his 80-minute concluding speech on Saturday at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi addressing 12,000-odd party workers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made two things clear. First, he pitched the election as a presidential contest and then picked Rahul Gandhi as his competitor — doubling down on the competing ideologies. The BJP holds that ‘one is a hard-working servant of the people who believes in the Constitution, public institutions and lokshahi (democracy), the other a cavalier, entitled dynast who undermines the Constitution, public institutions and propagates rajshahi (dynastic politics).’
Modi’s speech was delivered almost simultaneously with the announcement of arch-rivals Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) coming together to give mahagathbandhan a desired shape in Uttar Pradesh. The prime minister took apart the concept of ‘mahagathbandhan’ as a ‘comical alliance’ of desperate leaders who can only throw up a majboor (helpless) government. But his sharpest criticisms were aimed at Congress and its president (he never took Rahul’s name but referred to him with the moniker ‘naamdar’). This is aimed at decluttering the noise of campaigning and simplifying the contours of a tough battle, but also a pointer to BJP’s belief that a ‘Modi versus Rahul’ contest will serve its presidential model and keep alive the possibilities of post-poll coalitions with regional chieftains should the need arise.
Another significant takeaway from Modi’s speech was that it represented his first real pushback against Congress’s campaign strategy of portraying him as a “corrupt dictator” who undermines public institutions and imperils Indian democracy. Through an aggressive tone and tenor, Modi mounted a blistering attack on Rahul Gandhi and portrayed him as the embodiment of corruption and the flagbearer of a toxic legacy that — right from Jawaharlal Nehru — has prevented India from taking its rightful place in the comity of nations.
The Congress has targeted Modi’s integrity and his image of incorruptibility by launching a shrill campaign over alleged corruption in Rafale and has sought to link the turmoil in CBI and other institutions to it. The story being presented was that of a malevolent dictator who — in cahoots with crony capitalists — is out to destroy all institutions after being caught with his finger in the pie.
On Saturday, Modi turned the dictator theme around on to Congress and posited that it is the Congress which has no faith in democracy and has weakened all public institutions. It was interesting to note the examples that Modi gave to buttress his claim. He picked up the National Herald case to remind everyone that Rahul and Sonia Gandhi are currently out on bail in the UPA-era case that has been going on since 2012 but despite countless summons from various agencies, including the Income Tax department, the CBI or the ED who are probing the matter from different angles, the Congress’s First Family has never bothered to cooperate with the investigation and has refused to appear before the agencies despite being called 44 times overall and six times in the last six months.
Congress’s top leaders are mired in land grab and funds embezzlement cases, seek to hide their tax return details and refuse to appear before probe agencies. Therefore, surmised Modi, these people who are out on bail and disrespectful of institutions can never respect the Constitution or democracy. Whereas, recalled Modi, as the chief minister of Gujarat he was made to sit through a nine-hour grilling by the Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team (SIT) and hounded by all agencies (that were subverted and used by the UPA against him) for 10 long years but never refused to cooperate with agencies and subjected himself to all procedures because he believes in the Constitution, the law and truth.
“Congress’s First Family behaves like a royal family… We have faith in institutions. They do not have faith in the CBI, CAG. Can we hand over the country to them? We believe in the Constitution, they believe in the sultanate.”
Modi described this as a fundamental difference between the two parties’ approach and said that the electorate must choose wisely between the two.
“Do people want a ‘sevak’ who provokes family members, steals from the house, distributes the goodies among his family members and talks ill of the family with neighbours, goes on long leave or a sevak who works day and night, works more than the owners of the house and always thinks of their welfare. The way you will choose a Sevak, you decide what kind of Pradhan Sevak you want…” he said, accusing the Congress of denigrating all public institutions including the Election Commission, investigating agencies, Supreme Court and even our foreign ministry.
Modi’s case was made stronger through a recent CBI court judgement in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh ‘false encounter’ case, where Special CBI Judge SJ Sharma in a 350-page judgement on 21 December observed that the CBI, ostensibly under political pressure, instead of conducting a probe in accordance with law and finding out the truth, was “more concerned in establishing a particular pre-conceived and premeditated theory…” and the “entire investigation was thus targeted to act upon a script to achieve the said goal and in the “process of its zeal to implicate political leaders, CBI created evidence and placed witness statements in the charge-sheet.”
The BJP accused the Congress of using the CBI to “fix” Shah with an ultimate aim of getting to Modi. The prime minister said that while the UPA Government worked with the single-minded agenda of ambushing Modi by hook or by crook by misusing the CBI, the Gujarat government under him never prevented the probe agency from functioning in Gujarat unlike the governments in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh.
“What is it that they fear?”, asked Modi, suggesting that it is CBI today; it could be some other institution tomorrow. He recalled that in 2007, a Congress minister had predicted that Modi will be imprisoned in a few months. Shah was even put behind the bars. But we didn’t stop the CBI from entering Gujarat. We were aware of the law too. These people are blaming CBI because they’re scared, he said.
Calling his own government “spotless” on corruption, Modi drew a link between AgustaWestland chopper deal middleman Christian Michel and the alleged controversy over Rafale, suggesting that Michel was lobbying for competitors in the Rafale deal. The reference is aimed at drawing Congress into the murky dealings and blunting Rahul’s posture on Rafale.
Though he covered his government’s achievements and the 10 percent quota for economically weaker sections bill, large parts of Modi’s speech were aimed at reinforcing the difference between the BJP and the Congress. To Modi, Congress isn’t just a party but a mindset that must be defeated to set India on course for global greatness. In that respect, 2014 was just the preamble. The real and the last fight will be fought in 2019.
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