In state elections, decoding the PM’s campaign and his key messages
By addressing over two dozen rallies spread across four states — West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala — and the Union territory of Puducherry, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave an impetus to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s election campaign and showed yet again why he remains the party’s most important political campaigner, irrespective of the nature of the polls.
Since the elections were announced, spread over eight phases in West Bengal, three in Assam and a single phase in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry — only five phases in Bengal remain while the rest concluded on April 6 — the PM addressed 25 rallies as per the data collated by his office. Out of this, the PM has addressed 11 rallies in Bengal, seven in Assam; and three each in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and one in Puducherry.
But it was not just the number of rallies: in each speech, the PM made significant pointers which revealed both his political worldview, the party’s strategy, governance achievements, and an attack on political rivals. Here is the main thrust of his messages.
West Bengal - 11 rallies
The PM’s first official election rally in the state, where the BJP is locked in a tight contest with the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), was in Kolkata’s Brigade Ground on March 7. This was followed by public addresses on March 18 in Purulia; on March 20 in Kharagpur; and on March 2 in Bankura. On March 24, the PM’s schedule included a rally in Kanthi followed by two more addresses in Uluberia and Jayanagar; on April 3, the PM addressed two meetings in Tarkeshwar and Sonarpur. On April 6, he was back in Cooch Behar and Howrah.
His speeches have focused largely on the lack of development in the state, political violence and corruption. In sharp, calibrated attacks, the PM has kept the focus on corruption and the leakages in the public distribution system. “Where there is a scheme, there’s a scam,” — with statements such as these, the PM has not only lashed out at the TMC, but also posited the BJP as the alternative that has promised a sonar bangla or golden Bengal.
“Asol Parivartan” or the real change has also been the PM’s key promise to the people of Bengal. On Tuesday, for instance, while speaking at a rally in Cooch Behar, PM Modi who has been calling for a poriborton or change, coined another slogan Chalo Paltai (let us bring about the change) to target CM Mamata Banerjee.
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With the Opposition accusing the BJP of stoking communal polarisation in the state and turning the Jai Shri Ram slogan into a war cry, the PM retorted that had the BJP, like Banerjee, appealed for votes on the basis of religion, then it would have to face the music from the election commission as well as the media. At the same time, his speeches have been laced with critical references to “appeasement”, which is code for what the BJP alleges to be the pro-Muslim tilt of Mamata Banerjee’s government.
In his speeches, the PM has also targeted the CM for not allowing the benefits of Central schemes such as the PM KIsan Nidhi from reaching beneficiaries. In multiple speeches, he has alleged that women, backward classes, farmers and tea garden workers have been deprived of social welfare schemes.
The Opposition has dismissed the PM’s campaign.
“I don’t think there will be much impact of his campaigning . People were curious about the PM and came to see him initially. But yesterday, he addressed a meeting in a rural area and it wasn’t packed. He is trying his best to polarise. But I feel it is having diminishing returns,’’said TMC MP Saugata Roy
Tamil Nadu -3 rallies
In Tamil Nadu, where the BJP is contesting the election as an ally of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Prime Minister addressed three rallies — on March 30 in Dharapuram and on April 2 in Madurai and Kanyakumari — with an aim of both showing the BJP’s respect for Tamil Nadu’s distinct culture and traditions and highlighting governance achievements.
The PM largely spoke about how Central government schemes were beneficial for the people of Tamil Nadu. He also, repeatedly, invoked former chief ministers MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalitha, and accused the Congress of disrespecting democracy. The BJP in Tamil Nadu used the Vetrivel Yatra, designed to cover the six abodes of Lord Murugan in the state, as an attempt to cultivate its image as that of a party trying to revive Tamil pride, and the PM, while referring to the Central schemes and their benefits, said the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is inspired by the great Andal and Avvaiyar. It was, once again, in line with the deference shown to local culture and tradition that the PM brought up the United Progressive Alliance government’s stance on banning Jallikattu and how it was the NDA that cleared the ordinance brought by AIADMK, allowing Jallikattu to take place again.
Attacks against dynastic politics, as represented by both the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Congress, were part of the PM’s speeches. “NDA agenda is development agenda while Congress and DMK have only dynasty agenda. They only demean others and spread lies,” he said. Economic revival and an impetus to production, especially in the MSME sector, was also a highlight of the speeches.
The Opposition, however, has accused the PM of being anti-Tamil.
“It has become comical that every time Modi comes to Tamil Nadu, he starts quoting (Tamil saint) Thiruvalluvar and Avvaiyar but he’s against Tamils and the party is imposing Hindi on us,” says DMK MP and party spokesperson TKS Elangovan. “In Dharapuram, Modi made false statements that DMK treats women badly and he didn’t speak a word about the sex scandal in Pollachi (where two AIADMK functionaries were arrested and expelled from the party). Modi gives false information and his promise to make Tamil Nadu into Uttar Pradesh is dangerous and nobody will like that.”
Kerala -3 rallies
In Kerala where the BJP has a lone legislator in the assembly, the party has been trying to establish its footprint. Here, the PM addressed three rallies — in Palakkad on March 30, followed by two more in Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta on April 2.
The PM sharply criticised both the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front, referring to them as twins in “misgovernance, corruption, casteism and nepotism” and accused them of committing “seven deadly sins”, which included “false sense of pride and arrogance, greed for money, wrath towards people, jealousy towards each other, lust for power, dynasty politics and laziness in work”.
The Sabarimala issue that has emerged as a key poll issue found a mention in the PM’s speeches. In Konni, the epicentre of the Sabarimala agitation, he hit out at the LDF government for taking action against Ayyappa devotees during the agitation to prevent women of all age groups from visiting the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
The issues of disaster management and water availability in Kerala and economic revival were also part of the speeches where the election concluded on Tuesday. He listed some of the key projects that the Centre has sanctioned for Kerala in the recent Budget, including ₹65,000 crore for roads and highways as part of the Mumbai-Kanyakumari economic corridor, the second phase of the Kochi Metro and a plan for a fishing harbour in Kochi.
The Opposition was critical.
“The PM thinks about Sabarimala and Lord Ayyappa when he is in Kerala. During the last parliament election, he said that the Union government will protect interests of devotees. Two years have passed and nothing has been done. He is raking it up again eyeing votes. But devotees can’t be taken for a ride”, said Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala, also the state Opposition leader.
Assam -7 rallies
In Assam, where the BJP is pitted against the coalition of 10 parties including the Congress and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), the issue of illegal immigrants and protection of Assamese traditions and culture has been high on the party’s agenda.
Here, the PM addressed three rallies starting with Karimganj on March 18 followed by Chabua and Bokakhat on March 20 and 21. Bihpuria and Sipajhar were the next destinations for his rallies on March 23 and 24 and these were followed by a rally each in Kokjrajhar and Tamulpur on April 1 and 3.
The PM’s speeches targeted the Mahajot or the Opposition’s alliance and referred to it as “Mahajhoot” or grand lies. Making a reference to the Assamese identity, he said people would not tolerate those who insult Assam’s pride and identity. The BJP alleges that the AIUDF is sympathetic towards illegal immigrants.
While the BJP faced a lot of criticism following discrepancies in the National Register of Citizens and following the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the PM chose to stress on the party’s inclusive politics. In the state with a 30% Muslim population, the PM said it is the country’s misfortune that working for a particular section is called secularism while working for everyone gets you called communal.
He attacked the Congress for failing to curb the culture of violence, bombs, and gun in the state during its rule and said the NDA government is moving forward on the path of peace and prosperity with every partner of Assam.
The Opposition attacked the PM.
“We have seen how low politics has stooped low in this election in Assam. The kind of statements made by the Prime Minister and Union home minister during their campaign goes against Assam’s history, identity and culture. They have done a negative campaign and there was nothing positive for Assam in their campaign,” said Congress in-charge for Assam, Jitendra Singh.
Puducherry - 1 rally
The PM held a rally on March 30 in Puducherry, where the Congress government fell a few weeks before the election was announced. In his address, the PM attacked the Congress for failing to provide governance, ensure the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and curbing corruption.
He also took potshots at the former chief minister V Narayanasamy who was not given a ticket to contest the polls. “The situation in Puducherry is unique… It reflects the condition of the Congress. He was denied a ticket despite being a loyalist for so many years” the PM said. The denial of ticket to the former CM was attributed as an example of the failure to govern. The PM assured voters of infrastructure development, job creation and a fillip to tourism if the BJP is elected.
(With inputs by Umar Sofi)