Black magic row: Cong announces countrywide meetings on price rise
The Congress has responded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “black magic” taunt by announcing countrywide “mehangai chaupals” (interactive meetings on prices) from August 17 to 23, and a rally against price rise at Delhi’s Ramlila grounds on August 28.
The Congress hasn’t been so prompt and aggressive in decision-making over the last three decades, confining itself mostly to attacking the BJP via news conferences and social media platforms while its political clout suffered a steady loss on the ground.
But, after largely wasting the three years since the humiliating defeat in the 2019 general election, the party has in the past few weeks witnessed a transformation of sorts.
While the Narendra Modi government’s vindictive attitude appears to have been the catalyst — the targeting of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in the National Herald case triggered the Congress’s belligerence on the streets — the party put up an impressive protest against price rise on August 5.
The impact of the Congress programme is perhaps reflected best in the responses from Prime Minister Modi and home minister Amit Shah, which expose the insecurity in a ruling party that has failed to hijack the narrative despite its control over the communications system.
The duo’s comments were entirely divorced from the government’s formal statement in Parliament that had denied any significant price rise.
Shah attempted to argue that the Congress had assaulted Hindu sentiments by protesting in black on a sacred day, the anniversary of the Ram temple’s foundation-laying in Ayodhya.
Modi referred to the colour sported by the August 5 protesters to accuse the Congress of trying “black magic” to exorcise its own “despondency”.
“We saw on August 5 how a fierce attempt was made to spread black magic. These people think they can end their dark phase of despondency by wearing black clothes,” the Prime Minister said on Wednesday while addressing a Tiranga Yatra in Surat.
“Lekin unhe pata nahin, woh kitni hi jhad-fook kar len, kitna hi kala jadu kar len, andh-vishwash kar len, janata ka vishwash ab un par dobara kabhi nahin ban payega (But they don’t realise that however much they practise black magic, indulge in superstition, people will never again place their trust in them).”
Modi continued: “And let me add, they should not insult the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav and the Tricolour by resorting to black magic.”
The jibe has attracted fierce responses from the Congress and social media users.
“Bhoot-pret, kala jadu (ghosts, black magic) — this low-grade, illogical, superstitious language is spoken by the Prime Minister in 2022. Think, who have you elected!” Congress social media head Supriya Shrinate said.
Congress leaders were aghast particularly because Modi seemed to be using a teleprompter, suggesting these were not off-the-cuff remarks.
Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh posted a photograph of Modi taking a dip in the Ganga wearing a black dress and tweeted: “He couldn’t do anything to bring back black money but is making an issue out of black clothes. The country expects the Prime Minister to speak about people’s problems but the jumla-jeevi (one who habitually indulges in rhetoric) keeps speaking meaningless things.”
Rahul Gandhi said: “Can’t the Prime Minister see price rise, unemployment? He should stop lowering the dignity of the Prime Minister’s post and misleading the people by talking about superstitious stuff like black magic. You will have to answer questions about people’s issues.”
Going beyond the usual war of rhetoric, Ramesh issued a statement saying: “The Indian National Congress’s nationwide agitation on August 5 against the government’s anti-people policies strongly resonated with the people. Modi’s desperate attempt to tar legitimate protest as ‘black magic’ only highlights the BJP government’s insecurity about its failure to control rampaging inflation and unemployment.
“The Congress will take this fight forward. The party will organise several ‘mehangai chaupal’ at mandis, retail markets and other locations in all Assembly constituencies from August 17 to 23. This will culminate in a Mehangai Par Halla Bol rally on August 28 at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi.”
The party’s state units have been directed to hold “Dilli Chalo” meetings to mobilise crowds for the August 28 rally.
“People are suffering because of the government’s economic mismanagement. Inflation is being exacerbated by higher taxes on essential goods like curd, buttermilk and packaged food grains, while the transfer of public assets to crony capitalists and the introduction of the misguided Agnipath scheme are making a bad employment situation worse,” Ramesh said.
“The Congress will continue to spread awareness about these anti-people policies among the people and increase pressure on the BJP government to change course.”