The best defence is often said to be a good offence. Perhaps it is this dictum that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally pulled out and relied upon while giving an unusually long interview to a news agency on the first day of the New Year where among other things he also reflected upon Ayodhya dispute. He has obviously done so in a bid to regain some of the ground slipping from under his feet in the wake of last month’s debacle suffered by his party in three large Hindi-speaking States.
And this is how he has tried to underplay fears about the possibility of the recent adverse verdict in the Assembly polls of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan affecting the fortunes of the BJP in this year’s general elections which besides other things will decide the fate of the Government led by him.
Thus, amid the loss of ground for his party the Prime Minister tried to take a high moral ground by mounting a scathing attack against rival Congress and its efforts to cobble up a coalition to take on him through his an hour-and-a-half long interview given to the news agency ANI which was telecast on Tuesday evening. And while doing so he accepted his party’s defeat, courtesy the Congress, in Chhattisgarh but underrated the rival GOP’s (grand old party’s) performance in the other two States where he said that Congress could only form a minority Government to point out that the party had fallen short of a couple of seats in Madhya Pradesh and a single seat in Rajasthan to cross the halfway mark.
As for the attempts by Congress to form a grand alliance against the BJP he pointed out that these efforts came crumbling down in Telangana where K Chandrashekhar Rao’s TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samithi) trounced the Congress-Telugu Desam Party combine badly. And since Congress had to take support of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Modi was asked about the possibility of adding new coalition partners to NDA or National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP and also about the possibility of seeking support of BSP led by Mayawati in future. He avoided the question by saying that these things could not be discussed on television.
Such a refrain on the part of Modi only indicates the importance of adding allies and partners to make a difference in the next summer’s countrywide elections for Parliament though through better part of his interview he berated Opposition parties’ efforts to close ranks by saying that these parties were driven by the desire to dislodge him from the post of Prime Minister. The attack on the Congress and the parties being wooed by it was so sharp that Congress held a Press conference minutes after his interview was telecast to blame Modi of being too self-obsessed with his “I, me and my ramble” throughout the interview.
This retort resorted to against Modi by Congress spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala was meant to point out Modi’s reference to booth level BJP workers of the party right after him and thereby skipping over the entire party hierarchy in between the top leadership of the party embodied by him and his party point-man Amit Shah on the one hand and ground level workers of the party on the other. Modi also pointed out in Tuesday’s question-answer session with ANI that he preferred to represent the country in events or summits abroad instead of sending out his Cabinet peers because this led India to be taken seriously than what could otherwise be the case.
Significantly, these assertions have been made by Modi amid talks by a Cabinet colleague like Nitin Gadkari about the need to take the responsibility of recent reverses faced by the party in the Assembly polls. Thus, Modi’s firefighting through his today’s media appearance has been on multiple fronts. He was relentless in his criticism of Congress and not so harsh on other parties like BSP and veiled in his reference to noisy colleagues in his Government.
About Congress’ attack against him and more so for what the party calls to be “destruction” of institutions under him he reminded of Congress’ misdeeds in the past where senior judges were superseded to appoint Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He also tried to point to his humble moorings unlike what he indicated to be the elites of Congress in a bid to send positive vibes among the parties representing Dalits and backward castes in politics. And as for skeptics in his own party Modi tried to demonstrate that he believed to be being the front man instead of them to ensure country’s greater say in important matters, more so through his visits abroad.
He bitterly blamed Congress and its top leadership for corruption, nepotism and a felony like cronyism while flaunting the escape by a few debt-ridden businessmen during his tenure as the success of his unsparing policy against willful defaulters who failed to service their debt that was extended by public sector banks. Yet, similar criticism about corruption of the Congress could not cut ice with the electorate when in his one of the election speeches in the recently held Assembly elections he remarked that one “widow from the Congress gobbled up the money of all the poor widows of the country”.
Modi stoutly defended ban on currency bills of higher denominations over two years ago and subsequent introduction of GST (Goods and Services Tax) assuring that its savoury effects have been becoming visible in increased bank transactions and augmenting tax collection and the Congress was against these steps so that this could suit its politics. For political gains he also blamed Congress of ignoring the valour of armed forces and also their genuine and pressing needs.
But what turned out to be even more significant in Modi’s today’s TV appearance is his take on Ayodhya where he showed the inclination to wait for the process of appeal in the court to be heard and decided rather than making an intervention on behalf of the executive led by him. Yet, Modi blamed lawyers from Congress’ higher ranks to delay the decision of the court. But for this bit the Prime Minister tried to distance himself from the Ayodhya dispute in the interview as he has done through most of his current term in office.
This is obviously so because Modi generally does not like other outfits from the Hindutva fraternity to gain prominence. Instead of them he has relied more on the backing from saintly figures like Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Modi saw to the exit of a leader like Praveen Togadia from Vishwa Hindu Parishad last year and ensured that the Mandir or temple politics is not taken to a point where he could be made answerable to other satraps of the BJP’s larger ideological conglomerate called as the Sangh Parivar.
But Modi has also tried to keep the temple card in reserve so that this could well be played in the next general elections by bringing it prominently in the BJP’s manifesto.
This also remains so even after Tuesday’s interview though the BJP’s parent body, or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), lapped up Modi’s reference to Ayodhya in his interview as an opportunity to escalate its demand for Mandir.
So the question that cries for answer is that whether Modi has reopened the Ayodhya issue by referring or responding to it in his ANI interview or the Prime Minister will stick to what he said in the interview which amounts to waiting for the top court’s verdict and possibly abiding by it?
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.