Indian elections 2019: Narendra Modi unplugged on the campaign trail – It’s us and them

Highlights

Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems desperate as he tries to stoke what he calls “Hindu anger” against the Opposition as campaigns

Modi has stopped talking of “acche din” (good days) — his election promise nearly three years ago

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“I want to tell the first-time voters: can your first vote be dedicated to the veer jawans (brave soldiers) who carried out the air strike in Pakistan. Can your first vote be dedicated to the veer shaheed (brave martyrs) of the Pulwama (terror attack).”

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“Congress and its allies are contesting the Lok Sabha elections to give a free hand to terrorists.”

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“Rahul Gandhi is washing the sins of his father every day.”

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These are but a few quotes from Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he campaigns to march back as the head of the world’s largest democracy, which has just gone to the polls.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems desperate as he tries to stoke what he calls “Hindu anger” against the Opposition as he campaigns. It is unimaginable that the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, in his desperation to win, would explicitly talk about us and them. But he did.

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Addressing a rally in Maharashtra recently, Modi took pot shots at Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad in Kerala besides his traditional seat Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. Gandhi has filed nominations papers from both seats.

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Modi said: “Gandhi did not dare to contest from a seat where we (Hindus) are in a majority, but chose to contest from a seat where we are in minority.”

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But having known the prime minister and been a Modi watcher for 15 years, I did not join in the chorus of appalled voices, decrying the fact that Modi had crossed a red line. I am shock-proof when it comes to Modi and his dog whistle politics.

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It is Modi’s default mode. And the highlight of his curriculum vitae for his true believers, dating back to the Gujarat riots of 2002. Modi had termed the relief camps for Muslims post the riots as “baby producing camps”. He held forth on “hum paanch, hamarey pachees” (we five, our 25).

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It is a mistake to think that Modi going back to basics is a sign of desperation. This is the real Modi, unplugged – the thin veneer of “vikas purush” (development man) determinedly scrapped off.

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Acche Din

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Modi has stopped talking of “acche din” (good days) — his election promise nearly three years ago. This time, he is fighting the elections on a “Hindu khatrey mein hai” (Hindus are in danger) line. Hence the dog whistles and conflating all Opposition as allies of traditional enemy Pakistan.

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Says a senior BJP leader: “The Opposition has allowed Modi to grab the nationalism plank. Conflate the Modi government and the BJP with India and the Indian Army.”

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Hence Modi mark two, Yogi Adityanath, a rabble rouser in his own right, talks of the Army as “Modi’s Sena (army)”. And Modi addresses rallies with pictures of the Central Reserve Police Force personnel, who died in the terror attack in Pulwama.

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The BJP has put up hoardings all over the bellwether state of Uttar Pradesh, with its 80 seats, of Air Force pilot Abhinandan, who was captured by Pakistan after he ejected from his aircraft and subsequently released, with Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.

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NaMo TV

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As the Opposition cries foul, the Election Commission, which is mandated to ensure a free and fair election, was also late to act, sending notices to the BJP. A new TV channel called NAMo TV aired without any regulatory permission and a biopic on Narendra Modi starring Vivek Oberoi was all set to release during the elections. But then in a sudden decision on April 10, the Election Commission stopped the release of the biopic and asked Namo TV to go off air because red lines had been crossed.

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In 2014 Modi was a hologram on whom, voters fed up with the UPA 2, projected what they wanted. And, like an astute salesman, Modi had offers for all comers. You want to vote for development? Sure, here is the much ballyhooed “Gujarat model” which turned out to be all smoke and mirrors.

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Even those squeamish about voting for a bigoted communal agenda were happy that Modi was going to transform India’s economy. So they held their noses and voted for a full majority for Modi.

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However, Modi and his true believers always knew that “vikas” (development) was a handy mask, which he would rip off at will. Which is why the unconvincing cries of feigned horror at cattle lynchings, the othering of Muslims and muzzling of all institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India and the Election Commission are not a surprise to me at least.

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Read more

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  • Indian elections 2019: If politics were a chess game, then Nitin Gadkari is the man for poll season

  • ‘Blog minister’ Arun Jaitley is an editor’s delight

  • Rahul Gandhi sheds Pappu image, will give Narendra Modi a tough fight in 2019 elections

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This is the Modi model. And, those pretending shock and alarm and saying Modi is desperate are in denial. Modi knew all along that he would not run on his mediocre track record in office. That he would not have to answer voters on the quality of his governance.

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Even now the Opposition does not quite know how to take Modi on. They still believe in the genteel rules of fair play such as not using the Army as an electoral weapon.

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So as the campaign touches rock bottom, don’t say you were not warned. The real aim of Modi is to demonetise democracy. For as Modi’s lieutenant Yogi Adityanath recently put it: the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have Ali, but the BJP has Bajrangbali. The legacy lives.

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