The Congress appears to have started unravelling the mystique of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s exceptional ability to divert people’s attention by making alluring promises and creating hype around trivial issues, making his strength look like his frailty.
Instead of trying to match Modi’s lofty rhetoric, what the Congress has done is to pin him down on facts — both contemporary and historical — and decode his vague assertions on identity politics as well as development. While the Congress resisted the power of propaganda in Karnataka by sticking to its robust welfare agenda, senior leaders know they can’t get the better of him without defusing his political arsenal in the Hindi heartland.
While the Congress does wear the shield of welfare-ism on this battlefield, its leaders are locking horns with Modi in the realpolitik boxing ring as well. With Rahul Gandhi blocking all the pathways of caste manoeuvring, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has blunted the weapon of the religious card by explaining the futility of divisive politics to the voters. The BJP has largely failed to whip up communal passions despite desperate efforts by both the Prime Minister and home minister Amit Shah.
Addressing public meetings in Ajmer’s Kekri and Bhilwara’a Jahazpur on Monday, Priyanka said: “The Congress chief ministers are worried about delivering on their promises because accountability is a sacred factor for us. For the BJP, accountability is not a factor. They know votes come by whipping up religious passions. They talk Pakistan, Hindu, Muslim, temples… Enough of this politics! Divisive politics never helps the poor; it never hurts the leaders. This hurts you and it helps the BJP in perpetuating their control.”
Priyanka asked: “If the country is developing, why are the poor not progressing?”
This was a clear reference to Modi’s boast at all meetings: “Vishwa mein Bharat ka danka baj raha hai ki nahin?”
She added: “In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP — which governed for 18 years — is not talking about its achievements. They raise issues of religion. They don’t have money to help the farmers and for pension of government employees but they can spend Rs 20,000 crore for Parliament building. In Rajasthan, new universities, colleges and schools are being opened. In Madhya Pradesh, government schools are getting closed. While the farmer earns Rs 27 daily, Adani earns Rs 16,000 crore a day. Has this ever happened in this country?”
Addressing rallies in Rajasthan’s Anupgarh and Hanumangarh, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said: “Dhongi log ke jhanse mein mat aao (Don’t fall into the trap of hypocrites). They are dangerous. Modi distorts facts. In Telangana, I said KCR is ‘Modi’s baap’ in lying and Modi says I insulted his father. He does this frequently to gain sympathy. Even after being the chief minister for 13 years and the Prime Minister for 10 years, he keeps crying. He says he comes from a poor family and the Congress abuses him.”
Kharge further said: “I am the son of a labourer. I joined politics to serve the poor, not to divide the society. What else do the Prime Minister and the home minister do except abuse the Congress and divide the people? They should talk about their vision for the country but they only attack the Congress on corruption. Amit Shah has a huge washing machine in which all the taint of Congress leaders who defect to the BJP gets washed. They never talk of jobs, prices, youth, women, weaker sections of society.”
Objecting to his intensive tours of states during elections, Kharge said: “The Prime Minister has a stature; he can address one or two meetings. But Modi is constantly campaigning; asking people to vote seeing his face, from municipality to parliamentary elections. People have done that several times. No more.”
Asserting that Modi’s guarantees fade into “jumla” after elections, he said: “Such people are in power who entrap the voters with lies and falsehood. They are promising gas cylinders for Rs 450 now. Kaun roka tha pahle? Why did you sell it for Rs 1,100?”
Kharge asked the audience: “Do you have any problem if I describe Modi as a liar?” The crowd roared: "No".
He continued: “Modi said he will bring back black money and give Rs 15 lakh to everybody. He promised two crore jobs. He promised to double farmers’ income. He promised to bring down prices. Have these promises been fulfilled?" The crowd again burst into a chorus: "No".
“Then, am I wrong in calling him a liar?” he asked.
The crowd said: "No". The enthusiastic crowd went further and started shouting nasty slogans but Kharge requested them not to use harsh words.
Coming to history, Kharge asked: “Our leaders won freedom and built the country. All the institutions, public sector units, hospitals, dams, power plants, roads… were made by us. Which big has company Modi built? Did RSS people shed a drop of blood in the freedom movement? We gave MGNREGA, Food Security… your focus was on Adani-Ambani.”
The entire campaign by the Congress is focused on Modi as the BJP has itself sidelined the local leaders. The Congress has taken its attacks on Modi to a crescendo. Will this strategy result in the dismantling of the Modi Brand before the parliamentary election?