JASDAN/RAJKOT: Like a vanquisher of the world returning to find his own kingdom embattled, the Prime Minister came back to his political home turf to launch a powerful, two-pronged counter-assault to the Congress pitch in Gujarat.Beginning a spell of intensive campaigning with a rally in Bhuj, in Kutch, and then Jasdan, in Saurashtra, and Kamrej, in Surat, Narendra Modi on Monday took on the Congress on its vulnerable point — the chaiwallah jibe its youth wing had flung at him. “Yes, I sold tea but I did not sell the nation,” Modi said in his takeaway line.
“The Congress dislikes me because of my poor origins. Can a party stoop so low? Yes, a person belonging to a poor family has become PM. They do not fail to hide their contempt for this fact,” he continued, seeking to extract maximum mileage from his old tack of “a son of Gujarat” being mocked by the Congress.Modi also attacked the Congress on the flank where it is claiming a new strength: an alliance with Hardik Patel, and hence a new affection for it among the disaffected Patidars who have been agitating for some time now.
Harking back to the diminution of one of Gujarat’s old icons, Sardar Patel, in the pantheon of Congress leaders, Modi sought to demolish the Congress claim that it had the interests of Patidars in its heart. He also brought up a whole mini-history of Patel leaders being sidelined by the Congress, and even laid the blame for the exit of Anandiben Patel as CM at its door.
“It was with Jan Sangh support that a person from the Patel community, Babubhai Patel, became CM. Congress did not like this, ensured his government fell. When Keshubhai Patel, a son of Saurashtra became CM, the Congress again tried everything to dislodge him. They repeated the same disruptive tactic with Anandiben Patel, a daughter of the Patel community,” Modi said blaming the Congress for all the twists and turns of Gujarat politics since its inception.While this shows the BJP is not taking lightly the threat of Patidars deserting it, the way Modi harped on the theme of national security was also a tangential response to Congress criticism.
It was obvious that Rahul Gandhi’s “hugplomacy” quip had hit home when Modi joined the verbal duel with a counter-quip. “When our soldiers were eyeball-to-eyeball with China in Doklam, you were hugging Chinese diplomats,” he said.The surgical strike was another key point in his assertion of how the security situation had improved under his government. While Indian soldiers were taking on Pakistan on its territory, they were asking for footage as proof, Modi recalled for his audience. “Did our soldiers go there to shoot a film?”
Beyond rhetoric, there is a tactical edge to the BJP’s counter-assault: it is taking on the Congress in its old strongholds. The underlying fight is: the BJP wants to increase its tally to 150, and for that it needs to ensure the Congress loses its seats. (The Congress too hopes to increase its tally by targeting seats it narrowly lost in the last election.) In Jasdan, for instance, sitting MLA Bholabhai Gohil was of the Congress but defected to the BJP during Ahmed Patel’s contentious Rajya Sabha vote. The BJP has now given ticket to a Patidar, Bharat Bokra.
The development plank ties all of this on the surface. In his speeches, the PM is counting his good work, like cheaper stents for heart disease, apart from progress on water, electricity, roads, airports.
In Bhuj, he recalled, “This is where I began my administrative career when Prime Minister Vajpayee sent me here after the earthquake.” He then compared his post-devastation work with Jawaharlal Nehru’s record, as also his Jan Dhan policy with Indira Gandhi failing to open bank accounts for the poor.He said Bhuj became “a tourism centre from a smugglers den” under him. Later, hopping over to Kamrej in Surat, he said he saw great energy in the economy and discounted fears over GST and demonetisation.
Mevani to contest as Independent
Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani on Monday announced his decision to contest the Gujarat polls from the Vadagam (SC) seat of Banaskantha district as an Independent candidate with outside support from the Congress.
PM ‘misleading’ people
The Congress accused PM Modi of trying to mislead the people of Gujarat on the contributions of Jawaharlal Nehru and said it reflected his “unhealthy mindset”.