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regular-article-logo Friday, 21 June 2024

SC-ST-OBC ki sarkar: New spin after low Round II, PM Modi pivots to chanting welfarism

Modi had started the election campaign with the triumphalist cry of “chaar sau paar” (400-plus) seats but abandoned the slogan after the first round of voting on April 19

J.P. Yadav New Delhi Published 28.04.24, 06:23 AM
Narendra Modi addresses a public meeting in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, on Saturday.

Narendra Modi addresses a public meeting in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, on Saturday. PTI

Phir ek bar,” cried Narendra Modi. But he wasn’t referring to his latest campaign pirouette.

Having switched from his initial “400-plus seat” cry to a polarising pitch after the first phase of polling, the Prime Minister has after the second phase done another swivel, this time focusing on the downtrodden and their welfare.

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After the crowd at an election rally in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, had responded to his cue of “Phir ek baar” (once again) with “Modi sarkar” (a Modi government), the Prime Minister on Saturday said he had “ek aur nara” (one more slogan) for them.

“I want to raise one more slogan from the soil of Kolhapur. Will you cooperate?” he asked. “So far, I was saying ‘phir ek baar’ but now you will say ‘phir ek baar’ after me. Okay?”

He then provided the cue: “Garibon ki sarkar (A government of the poor).”

The crowd responded: “Phir ek baar.”

“SC-ST-OBC ki sarkar,” Modi prompted. “Phir ek baar,” the crowd shouted back.

Modi went on: “Vikas ko samarpit sarkar (a government dedicated to development)”; “Yuvaon ko avsar dene wali sarkar (A government that creates opportunities for the youth)”; “Mahilaon ko suvidha dene wali sarkar (A government that gives benefits to women)”.

Each time, the crowd follow­ed up with: “Phir ek baar.”

Modi had started the election campaign with the triumphalist cry of “chaar sau paar” (400-plus) seats but abandoned the slogan after the first round of voting on April 19.

The low turnout had appeared to confirm fears that the call for a high victory margin had sparked anxiety about a possible plan to tweak the Constitution and scrap reservations.

Starting with a rally in Rajasthan on April 21, Modi began accusing the Congress of planning to snatch people’s properties, including women’s mangalsutras, and redistributing them disproportionately among Muslims, “who have more children”. He also claimed the Congress would impose an inheritance tax.

With the second phase too registering a low turnout comes the latest change in tack.

Party insiders said the focus on “SC-ST-OBC ki sarkar” was an attempt to counter the Opposition campaign about the BJP planning to end reservations which, feedback suggests, has alarmed large sections of Dalit and tribal voters.

Besides, ground reports from many states have attributed the reduced polling on Friday to a lack of voter enthusiasm, particularly in states that the BJP and its allies had swept in 2019 — such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

Figures released by the Election Commission after Friday’s polling show the voting has been as sluggish as in the first phase, marking an average fall of around 4 percentage points – and a higher drop on the BJP’s heartland turf.

At the Kolhapur rally, Modi claimed he was seeking votes for a “Viksit (Developed) Bharat” but the Opposition had changed its pitch to an “anti-national and appeasement” agenda.

“The INDI alliance saw it cannot compete with us on development,” Modi said.

He said the Opposition had promised to reinstate Article 370 and roll back the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

“Will this country allow all this to happen?” he asked. He claimed it has been “2-0” in the first two rounds of polling.

He didn’t abandon divisive topics altogether, accusing the Congress again of planning to replicate the Karnataka model of OBC reservation for Muslims and to distribute citizens’ property among the Opposition’s vote bank.

He concluded with a fervent appeal to citizens to brave the heat and come out to vote in large numbers. “Will you come out in large numbers? Will you break the past record of voting?” he asked the crowd.

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