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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 19 New Delhi April 27, 2019

Signs of Desperation

Monday 29 April 2019, by Barun Das Gupta

The BJP leaders, from the Prime Minister downward, are showing signs of desperation. Their campaign speeches are not only becoming more raucous but also ribald. Truth to say, facing such attacks constantly, some Opposition leaders have also been provoked into replying in kind. The result is that the level of public discourse is touching a new low, while the central issues in the election like development, poverty elimination, farmers’ distress, employ-ment generation, etc. are not coming into focus at all.

The Prime Minister himself has made some astounding statements which none of his predecessors ever did. Pakistan has threatened India, off and on, that it has nuclear weapons, hinting that it may use them against India. Former Prime Ministers, including Atal Behari Vajpayee, never replied to such provocative threats, as behoves a big and powerful country like India. But Narendra Modi did. According to a Times of India report, the Prime Minister told an election rally at Barmer on April 21 that India was “no longer” afraid of the threats of a nuclear war given by Pakistan every now and then. He warned Pakistan: “We have not saved our nukes for Diwali.” This remark is unbecoming of the Prime Minister of a big and powerful nation like India which, the BJP leaders claim, has already become a superpower. Incidentally, what does “no longer” mean? Does he mean to say that before he became the Prime Minister, India was afraid of Pak nukes? Modi does not understand that such language lowers the image of India in the comity of nations.

Modi has earlier used the Pulwama tragedy and the IAF ‘surgical strike’ on terror bases at Balakot unashamedly for seeking votes for his party, thus violating the unwritten rule that the armed forces must never be politicised. After the serial terror attacks in Sri Lanka in which 290 persons were killed and about five hundred injured, Modi, in one of his election speeches, did not hesitate to use that tragedy to appeal to people to vote for him and his party to put an end to terrorism. He seemed under a spell of megalomania when he asked the rally: “Can you name anyone other than Modi who can combat terrorism?” Such blatant self-aggrandisement is not only shocking but revolting.

Modi likes dramatisation. Around noon on March 27, he kept the entire nation waiting with bated breath for an hour for an important announcement. The announcement, when it did come, was an anti-climax. India had shot down a satellite (one of India’s own) with an anti-satellite missile (ASAT). In fact the community of scientists working at the ISRO and DRDO had developed this capability long ago but wisely refrained from publicising it or demonstrating it. Modi made this capability known to the world on the eve of the elections to boost his and his party’s electoral prospects. He could have easily asked the Chairman of the ISRO or DRDO to make this announcement but that would not have served his hidden political agenda.

All these are signs of desperation and nervousness of a man who fears that defeat and loss of power is staring him in the face. The desperation has gone to such an extent that some proxies had to be used in Amethi constituency to challenge Rahul Gandhi’s Indian citizenship with a view to disqualifying him from contesting. The plea was rejected by the Election Commission which found Rahul’s paper valid but the whole exercise showed a desperate attempt to prevent Rahul Gandhi from contesting. Why should the BJP be so intent on keeping the Congress President out of the electoral contest when it is claiming that its candidate Smriti Irani is going to win hands down?

The BJP is now crudely trying to divide the electorate along religious lines. These days nobody talks of sabka saath sabka vikas or generating twenty million jobs a year or the great benefits the Indian people have supposedly derived from demonetisation. Not vikas but vived is now the weapon to win the polls. A lesser luminary has issued an open threat that if his party returns to power, all Muslims will be forced to shave their beard. The reader may excuse a bit of flippancy, but one shudders to think what would happen to Rabindranath Tagore, were he alive today? Would he have been dragged to a barber’s shop, forced to sit on a stool with the barber brandishing a razor on his face!

The BJP may lose the elections. But the damage that it has already done to India’s body politic and is still doing, will continue to plague the nation for a long time to come. If the Opposition comes to power, it should have two priorities. First, to hold the coalition together for full five years, and second, to launch a movement for inculcating the values of secularism and democracy in the people, especially in the rising generation. This movement has to be carried on relentlessly irrespective of the change in the fortunes of political parties from election to election.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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