It’s barely four months after the Lok Sabha elections so it’s not a surprise that in the Assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra, where campaigning ends on Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah’s speeches have echoed many of the themes they raised in the general elections — nationalism, Congress’s first family, and an effete Opposition mired in corruption cases.
But there’s a twist. The scrapping of special status of Jammu and Kashmir and the abrogation of Article 370 is, predictably, a key new subject for both leaders but on the controversial issue of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), Shah is the one more vocal.
Clearly, it’s the Home Minister who is steering the electoral discourse on NRC — also with an eye on 2021 Assembly elections in West Bengal — reiterating his vow to implement NRC during the current term. In many election rallies in Haryana and Maharashtra, Shah’s refrain: by the time the BJP returns to seek votes in 2024, “we will see that the illegal immigrants are out of this country.” He urged the electorate to question the Congress and the NCP on why they were against the BJP government’s steps to keep illegal infiltrators out.
In contrast, Modi has made no references to NRC in his recent speeches. Even during his Lok Sabha campaign, he talked about the issue mostly when he was in the North-Eastern states.
For the record, the BJP’s manifesto for 2019 Lok Sabha elections promised it would complete the process of NRC in areas where illegal migration has affected people’s livelihood and employment and “implement NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country.”
In Modi’s latest campaign push, an analysis of his speeches shows, “naamdar”, “rashtriya suraksha” and “rashtravad” still find prominent place. With Maharashtra BJP promising to work towards a Bharat Ratna for Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, “Savarkar” figured frequently in his speeches. He linked Savarkar and Article 370 by saying that those who were angry at his government nullifying Article 370 used to “abuse and denigrate Veer Savarkar” and are now denying him a Bharat Ratna.
Just as he did during the Lok Sabha campaign, in most of his rallies, the PM targeted the Congress but this time, he didn’t spare its ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) either. In Akola, he said “there used to be bomb blasts frequently” during the Congress-NCP rule. In an apparent reference to the probe against Praful Patel and his transactions related to the sister of late Iqbal Mirchi, Modi said the new developments indicated why the blast-accused had fled the country. If he slammed the Congress’s questions on the surgical strikes in the Lok Sabha campaign, this time Modi criticised them for questioning the relevance of raising Article 370.
At public rallies both in Maharashtra and Haryana, the Prime Minister mentioned the move in J&K and reached out to the crowd: “Was it necessary? Did Modi do the right thing? Was it not for this (that) you put Modi in power?” In contrast, he told them, Opposition leaders were very unhappy. “Their faces have shrunk, they feel hurt, they are very upset. They ask how did Article 370 is an issue in Maharashtra? What does Maharashtra have to do with it?”
Regaining “India’s lost glory” was a promise that prominently figured in Modi’s Lok Sabha poll speeches. This time, too, his refrain was that the Congress is no longer a party of nationalists and patriots. “I am told Congress party has started giving special lessons on nationalism to its workers. I don’t know whether I should cry or laugh. It means that today’s Congress is no longer a party of patriots. Due to dynasticism, Congress is unable to see nationalism.”
His appreciation for Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was a key theme. In his speech in Panvel, Modi sought the re-election of Fadnavis: “Narendra-Devendra formula was a super hit in five years. Devendra and Narendra together is not 1+1=2, it is 1 and 1 which is 11. This strength of 11 will take Maharashtra to new heights.”
As in his Lok Sabha poll speeches, he referred to welfare schemes initiated by his government in its first term but for the state poll campaign, he added that the state government had supported and taken forward these programmes. His speeches, both in Maharashtra and Haryana, began with evoking local deities and heroes Raj Rajeswhar Bhawan in Akola, Jyotirao Phule and Chhatrapati Shivaji in other places. If the Congress’s failure to confer Bharat Ratna on B R Ambedkar was the issue frequently referred to in his earlier speeches, the recent ones slammed the party for not honouring Veer Savarkar and Chotu Ram, a prominent Jat leader.
While his speeches ahead of Lok Sabha elections highlighted action against “naamdar”, a reference to the Gandhi family, in his Assembly campaign speeches, Modi told the crowd “we have ensured that they reach the prison doors, we will put them in jail soon.”