By K Narayanaswamy
Bengaluru, May 4: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's blitzkrieg election campaign has been the talking point both from the BJP and Congress' points of view. While the former is hailing the PM's speeches like they were pearls of wisdom, the latter is firing all guns, in a counter-attack strategy that has so far worked to its advantage.
While Modi delivered his dramatic speeches, one of the hashtags that started trending on Twitter was #ModiHitWicket. The Congress did not have to work too hard to keep this trending - the PM himself provided enough fodder, scoring self-goals one after the other in practically every rally. And I am not even talking about the 'acche kapde' jibe that Congress was so quick to make fun of.
Take for instance the Ballari rally. A few days ago, Modi's party colleague Amit Shah wisely cancelled his rally in the stronghold of mining barons, the controversial Reddy brothers. The BJP has time and again insisted that Janardhana Reddy was not campaigning for the party, and was only doing it for Sriramulu as a friend. Amit Shah distanced himself from the ticket allotment to Somashekhar Reddy and Karunakar Reddy, but BJP president Yeddyurappa put him in a spot when he said the tickets were issued after his approval. Janardhana Reddy was told to keep away from BJP rallies especially when Modi comes calling. But that in no way compensates for the fact that the PM, who was harping about corruption in Siddaramaiah-led government, which he even called by such names as '10 percent government' and 'Sidda-rupayya', shared the Ballari stage with Somashekar Reddy, a man who was arrested in cash-for-bail scandal. Ironically, Modi accused the Congress of bringing 'shame' to Ballari region!
Chief minister Siddaramaiah, whose cheeky tweets have captured the nation's imagination, was ready for the counter attack even before Modi set foot on Ballari. "Dear PM Modi, As you arrive in Bellary, we look forward to hear your commentary on corruption. Don’t forget to mention Reddy’s record scam score of 35,000 cr & still not out. With star players like Yeddy-Reddy, your score in Karnataka will be well short of 60 (sic)," he tweeted.
After the PM's rally, the chief minister tweeted again, "In Bellary you are asking for vote for a candidate who is the brother of the mining mafia kingpin G. Janardhana Reddy who brought shame to Bellry & the state. And you say Congress has insulted Bellary. Pray, how? There must be a limit to lies."
But sharing the stage with a Reddy brother was not the only self-goal by Modi. In Kalaburagi, he made a statement that had many questioning the very dignity of his position as the PM. During his recent London tour, the PM famously said, "Rape is rape, it should not be politicised," in an obvious reference to the Kathua and Unnao rape cases where BJP people were directly or indirectly involved. This was the same Modi who during the last Lok Sabha elections had told the voters to 'remember Nirbhaya' when they cast their votes. But he is the PM now and one may expect him not to stoop to trolling another party on a sensitive subject like rape. Alas, that was not the case. The PM seemed to have forgotten his own words, and instead of addressing the issue with the seriousness it deserves, chose to be sarcastic, questioning the Congress leaders over atrocities against Dalits. "In neighbouring Bidar, a Dalit girl was raped. The details are still available on social media. I ask those from the Congress who take out candlelight vigils in Delhi – when a Dalit girl is raped in Bidar, where did your candlelight get lost? Where were your leaders then?"
Chief minister Siddaramaiah too attacked the PM for making such a comment and then holding a meet with women in Bengaluru.
"Tokenism Modi ji. Real empowerment comes from real policies. Yesterday you ridiculed a candle light march to protest against defenders of child rapists in Kathua & today you pretend to care for Mahila Shakti. Please learn from Karnataka how it is done. Follow this thread (sic)," he tweeted, going on to list the initiatives taken by the Karnataka Congress government in the interest of women and girls.
In the same rally in Kalaburagi, the PM attacked Congress president Rahul Gandhi for 'disrespecting' Vande Mataram during his visit to Bantwal recently, where he allegedly stopped the song as he was getting late. The BJP leaders had pounced on Gandhi, and in all fairness, Rahul Gandhi should have let the song complete. The PM took the opportunity to question Rahul Gandhi's 'patriotism', asking, "How can we expect patriotism from a person like Gandhi, who disrespects Vande Mataram?" But Modi and his party colleagues seem to have forgotten that their own men have been left embarassed on television on more than one occasion when they were asked to sing the national song. BJP spokeperson Navin Kumar Singh became a laughing stock after he was told to sing Vande Mataram during a debate in late 2017. The video has since gone viral. BJP MLA Raj Purohit too had failed to sing the song when asked to.
That was not all. PM Modi was also called out by the Twitterati for getting his facts wrong. The Prime Minister, in his speech in Kalaburagi, spoke of Field Marshal KM Cariappa and General K Thimayya, alleging how they had been 'insulted' by the Congress government of the day. "Cariappa and Thimayya were insulted by the Congress - this is a historical fact," the Prime Minister said. "We won the 1948 war under the leadership of General Thimayya, but after the war, the man who saved Kashmir was insulted repeatedly by Prime Minister Nehru and Defence Minister Krishna Menon."
Siddaramaiah responded with this tweet:
Congress communications in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted, "Modi ji, Better start reading from a paper to brush up your knowledge of history. Gen Thimayya became Army Chief only on 8th May 1957 and not 1947 as you alleged.
V K Krishna Menon was ambassador to UK between 1947-52 & not Defence Minister as you alleged."
Then came Modi's attack at the ruling Congress in Bengaluru rally. The rhetoric of name-calling a city that is an important part of India's development story did not go down well with Bengalureans. Modi's upholding of the dignity of his office came into question once again, when he resorted to term Bengaluru as a 'crime capital', 'a valley of sin', a garden city turned into 'garbage city', and what not, under the Congress. Ironically, it was under his own Yeddyurappa-led BJP government's reign in Karnataka that the New York Times in 2012 had come up with the caption 'garbage city'. People on Twiiter were quick to defend their beloved city.
The real, factual response came from Siddarmaiah himself, who in a series of tweets listed out the reasons why Bengaluru is one of the top cities in India.
"It is rather disappointing to see the PM failing to speak like a Prime Minister, time & again. Cities around the country are under pressure, particularly the dynamic ones like Bengaluru. But to call it names like crime capital, valley of sin, etc. is an insult to us Bengalureans (sic)," he tweeted.
"Your CM candidate @BSYBJP turned this city into a garbage city (NY Times gave this unfortunate epithet in 2012.) He killed new residential layouts by denotifying lands meant for the layouts to make private gain. BJP pledged BBMP buildings to raise money. We had to get them back."
All said and done, things don't seem to be going BJP's way at the moment. The Prime Minister perhaps needs to go beyond mere rhetorics and win the confidence of the people of Karnataka with a factual and visionary approach, and believable promises. One however cannot blame Modi alone. The BJP in Karnataka has not done a good job of achieving the Modi government's vision of ending corruption, particularly in giving tickets to the Reddy brothers. The party's chief ministerial face himself has a questionable track record when it comes to corruption. The party needs to pull up its socks and get its act together.