Modi seizes control of the political discourse

As  parts of Tripura and Assam kick off the lengthy voting process in one  of the most keenly contested parliamentary elections, this will  possibly be the first time that the northeast is not perceived as  marginal to Indian democracy. Mr Narendra Modi can legitimately claim  credit as the first prominent leader to give these States a sense of  belonging to the civilisational matrix of India, the first to note  that the Seven Sisters have long been eight, Ashtha Lakshmi as he  calls them.

This  is not mere quibbling over numbers, but a display of sensitivity  towards a region that has experienced callous neglect at the hands of  successive regimes at the Centre, so that its huge potential remains  untapped, its territory encroached by neighbours and swamped by  demographic invasions, all of which have given the people a sense of  siege.

The  feeling of being lesser citizens has been aggravated by incidents of  harassment of youth from the region studying in Delhi, molestation of  young girls, and the gruesome beating to death of a youth, ostensibly  over his looks! In several meetings, Mr Modi has expressed sorrow  over the incidents and emphasised their equal citizenship of India,  even as Congress-UPA leaders maintain stony silence despite the  incidents having taken place under their nose.

Narendra  Modi has taken the nationality issue further by being the first  important leader to promise to redress the lack of citizenship rights  for those who fled Pakistan-occupied Kashmir after the 1947 invasion,  and those who arrived later from West Pakistan during the 1965 and  1971 wars. These families have been languishing in neglect for  decades in camps in Srinagar. He has reiterated that the exiled  Pandit community must get justice.

This  ability to address the core of an issue without getting embroiled in  community affiliations or biases has enabled Narendra Modi to frame  the terms of debate in this election, putting his rivals on the  defensive! The Congress especially has been at a loss to match his  powerful oratory and rebut his myriad charges and challenges on the  agrarian crisis and farmer suicides, decline of manufacturing and  employment opportunities, economic stagnation, price rise and  inflation, lack of opportunities for education and skill development,  and above all, the better performance of non-Congress governments,  mainly those led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Having  seized the intellectual high ground, Narendra Modi has deftly  de-fanged the warped (anti-Hindu) definition of secularism in India  that has hitherto been wielded as a weapon to demonise and disarm the  BJP, and Hindus in general. He has done this by adroitly lampooning  the word, equating it with a mask behind which the ruling Congress,  its allies and friendly parties hide their multiple failures on  issues of critical importance to the people, viz., water for farming,  employment and opportunities for youth, alleviation of poverty, the  physical safety of women and girls, et al. The bogey of ‘secularism  first’ or ‘secularism in danger’ is raised by non-BJP parties  to dodge accountability for their sins of omission and commission  whenever they are in the dock, he has charged in rally after rally,  leaving them fuming in impotent rage.

To  the Congress’s consternation, Mr Modi has repeatedly raised the  issue of Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam, who are ‘stealing’  (cornering) the resources and employment opportunities that  rightfully belong to Indian youth. He has boldly condemned the State  Government’s policy of interning Hindu youth in detention camps on  grounds that they are not bona fide citizens, as part of vote bank  politics, while refusing to seriously identify and deport illegal  immigrants. He has clearly asserted that India is, and must be, the  natural refuge of Hindus in distress in any part of the world; no  politician has ever made such a public assertion.

But  Mr Modi has conducted his marathon campaign as a parallel chargesheet  against the ruling Congress, accusing UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi of  functioning as a puppet master and her National Advisory Council  (NAC) of being an extra-constitutional body with no accountability.  In this spirit, he robustly attacked the Prevention of Communal  Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2013, a brainchild  of the NAC, for poaching on matters on the State List, violating the  federal structure of the Constitution, and being motivated by vote  bank politics. He has pointedly attacked the Muslim-centric Sachar  Committee, a brainchild of the Congress president, and denounced the  attempt to force a communal census on the armed forces, which was  mercifully resisted.

It  is obvious that Mr Modi is an unconventional politician who evades  straitjackets. At Patna on October 27, 2013, when bombs exploded in  the penumbra of his Hunkar Rally (six unexploded bombs were later  found at the venue; one beneath the podium), he displayed sterling  qualities, issuing an appeal to Hindus and Muslims to unite against  divisions fostered by failed leaders and fight the common enemy of  poverty. On another occasion, he berated Mr Rahul Gandhi for claiming  that after the Muzaffarnagar riots Pakistan’s Inter Services  Intelligence (ISI) contacted Muslim youth in the relief camps and  told him to either prove his allegation or apologise for the  “communal slur”.

A  quintessential heritage politician, Rahul Gandhi has not been able to  counter Mr Modi’s barbs on issues such as party nominations to  tainted leaders (Pawan Bansal, Ashok Chavan); alliances with  convicted leaders (Lalu Prasad Yadav); changing the party candidate  for Vadodara; the entrepreneurial skills of Robert Vadra, et al. Nor  has he contributed a single idea to the national discourse.

Now,  as voting begins in the multi-phase polls, a question agitating the  minds of citizens is whether political parties enjoy a level playing  field. In November 2013, when there was no model code of conduct, Mr  Modi mentioned a “khooni  panja”  in the context of the genocide of Sikhs in 1984. The Election  Commission chided him for remarks “injurious to the cause of  decorous political discourse”. Yet, with the model code  operational, even suo moto notice was not taken of Sonia Gandhi’s  appeal to the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid that Muslim (communal) votes  should not be divided. The Imam later accepted the appeal and  endorsed the Congress.

Since  then, a sting on Ayodhya having elicited yawns, attempts are being  made to target Mr Modi through his principal lieutenant, Mr Amit  Shah. Asking people to avenge grievances through the ballot, rather  than with bullets, is unexceptionable. Yet a cacophony has been  raised and a report sought; this is unfortunate.

First  published
The Pioneer, 8 April 2014 [Title:  Modi seizes control of the political discourse]

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