Modi unveils the BJP’s poll planks
Narendra Modi officially kicked off his campaign for the Lok Sabha elections on Thursday with a rally in Meerut in Uttar Pradesh (UP). While the Prime Minister has addressed multiple mass meetings across the country in recent months, many with a strong political overtone, the Meerut rally gave a clear indication of what would be the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) key campaign messages. With the party acutely conscious that it can overcome opposition alliances only by making the election about national leadership, the rally was all about Mr Modi. From the repeated chants of Phir ek baar, Modi sarkar (Modi government once more) to the PM himself declaring that each vote for local candidates must be seen as a vote for him, the Modi brand was strongly projected.
But beyond that, delving into the substance of Mr Modi’s speech, it appears that three key themes will dominate the party’s campaign over the next seven weeks. The first is Vikas or development. The PM said he would give an account of his performance, and his report card on governance primarily revolved around welfare and infrastructure. He cited rural housing, toilet construction, gas cylinders, health insurance, income support to farmers, and electrification as his achievements. And in case of west UP and Meerut in particular, he also claimed to have taken steps to enhance its connectivity through roads, rail and air and thus embed it firmly within the National Capital Region.
The second theme, which drew the most applause, was Mr Modi’s emphasis on how he had, through decisive steps, improved Indian capabilities in the realm of security. He took credit for launching surgical strikes on land, in air and even in space — a reference to Wednesday’s anti-satellite missile test. He repeated how India had entered Pakistan, killed terrorists and dismantled terror camps, as the crowd got more excited. But he went on to then juxtapose this with the opposition’s stance. Mr Modi claimed that the opposition had been indecisive when in power; it had protected terrorists; and its current scepticism about Indian actions was against Indian armed forces. By doing this, not only was the PM projecting himself as the only strong leader capable of keeping India secure, but also painting the entire opposition as either terror sympathisers or weak on terror.
And the third theme, building on the second, was attacking the opposition — both the Congress and the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance in UP — as incoherent, opportunistic, self-serving, nepotistic, with no development and law and order record, and catering only to narrow caste and religious interests. It was by attacking their track record that Mr Modi mocked promises, including the Congress’ minimum income guarantee scheme, as an instance of it deceiving people. In contrast, he presented himself as a chowkidar (watchman) — another term which energised the crowd — and as someone who was only committed to the nation, development and a corruption free system.
The ball is now in the opposition’s court to challenge Mr Modi’s claims on development, national security, and of providing decisive and honest government. Whoever wins the debate on these three issues among the electorate will be smiling on May 23.