Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh on Saturday said the people of India were tired of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s "self-obsessed" drive for self-promotion and would give "a suitable answer very soon".
His comments came at a time the Centre has been accused of trying to get the army, universities and the bureaucracy to highlight the government’s achievements ahead of the 2024 parliamentary elections.
"Our selfie-obsessed and self-obsessed PM is so insecure in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls that he’s leaving no stone unturned to save his flailing image," Ramesh said.
"First, it was the army being asked to set up selfie points. Then, he asked IAS officers and other senior government officials to take out rathyatras. Now, he has directed the UGC to set up selfie points in all universities," he added.
Ramesh said: “Earlier, he hijacked the Chandrayaan-III landing by appearing on the live feed. Before that, he pasted his face onto all Covid-19 vaccine certificates. These are only a few examples and they reflect the man’s tremendous insecurities and the sickening sycophancy around him. People will give a suitable answer very soon.”
One opportunity to find out how a sizeable segment of India’s voters sees Modi’s politics will come on Sunday when the results of Assembly elections in four states are announced. Counting in Mizoram has been delayed by a day.
Modi has himself transformed these state elections into a referendum on his own popularity by removing the local leadership from the frame and asking people to vote for him.
Sensing a clear advantage over the BJP in the exit poll predictions, Congress social media head Supriya Shrinate has declared that the people have rejected Modi and refused to become “jallad” (hangman) despite his instigations.
Modi had asked voters to push the lotus button hard, as though they were “hanging” the Congress.
Shrinate said the people were fed up with the politics of hate and division, and wanted elections to be fought over “real concerns” such as education, healthcare, employment and prices. She also said the people would punish Modi for his misuse of the Enforcement Directorate.
The ED raids in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in the middle of the campaign had become an election issue.
Ramesh too taunted Modi on the subject of the purported misuse of the ED for political purposes, flagging Friday’s arrest of an agency official in Tamil Nadu for alleged bribery, weeks after another had been arrested in Rajasthan on similar charges.
“One of the superstar campaigners of the BJP has stumbled yet again, this time in Tamil Nadu,” he said.
“Weeks after an ED official was caught with Rs 15 lakh bribe in Rajasthan, another official of the ED was caught red-handed with Rs 20lakh for extortion and bribery,” he added.
“The Modi government has completely damaged the reputation of ED/ CBI/ IT (income-tax department) by turning them into political tools to harass and intimidate the Opposition and anyone who questions the government. Now its officers are running their own mini-extortion rackets.”
While the BJP’s prospects seem to have withered away in Telangana --- indicating a crisis for the party in the south --- the heartland of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh will indicate whether Modi can still ensure victories despite the BJP’s organisational weaknesses and performance deficit.
Although the BJP won the 2019 parliamentary elections after losing Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in December 2018, the political realities seem to have changed in the last five years.
The chants of a “Congress-mukt Bharat” have evaporated and Modi now faces a resurgent Congress that has not only wrested Karnataka and Himachal from the BJP but is poised to spring a surprise by grabbing Telangana as well.
The Congress has been sharing power in Bihar, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu. If it retains Chhattisgarh and wins either of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the BJP will no longer be the dominant force rampaging through the country.
If the Congress wins both Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the BJP will be left with only three big states: Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Assam. Sunday’s results therefore have the potential to change the political landscape of the country.
The Congress has already succeeded in demolishing Modi’s reformist façade in these elections, compelling him to abandon his harangue against freebies, which he had contemptuously dismissed as “rewri culture”.
Indeed, the lone factor being described as a possible saviour for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh is the Ladli Behna scheme of providing Rs 1,200 to poor women every month.
Modi had slammed the Congress for offering Rs 2,000 to women in Karnataka.
Even more stunning is the BJP’s promise to provide cooking gas cylinders for Rs 450 in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, turning on its head Modi’s policy of curbing petroleum subsidies that had pushed the price of LPG cylinders beyond Rs 1,100.
Another electoral strategy of the BJP that is being tested in these elections is that of communal polarisation.
While divisive politics didn’t work in Karnataka, its efficacy will diminish significantly if the Congress manages to retain Rajasthan where the Prime Minister desperately tried to polarise voters on religious lines.
If the BJP wins Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, it is the Congress that will have to fine-tune its strategy of relying solely on its welfare agenda.