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9 February, 2020 11:22:59 AM

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The last man advantage

That Narendra Modi is a first rate orator is a given as is his ability to turn adversity to opportunity
KUMKUM CHADHA
The last man advantage

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi rose to speak in Parliament to reply to the Motion of Thanks to the President, one expected the usual drama, characteristic of the BJP, the Prime Minister being no exception. That Narendra Modi is a first rate orator is a given as is his ability to turn adversity to opportunity. His speeches in Parliament have often been high of rhetoric and low on content.
This time around when he started off by quoting verse, the general expectation was that he would play around with words and side step the issues at stake. But he did quite the opposite. He took head-on the criticism mounted by the opposition and demolished it in a point by point rebuttal.
It may have been perceived as a soft start given that he used verse quoting poet Sarveshwar Dayal’s lines roughly translated as: “Those who walk the dotted line are weak and defeatists; we chart our own course”.
Riding piggyback on this sentiment, Modi said that people often wonder why is his government in a hurry to accomplish tasks that have been long-pending?
It is this twist that he deftly used to his advantage and listed his government’s achievements: 37 million people having bank accounts; 11 million toilets in their homes; 13 million cooking gas; 40 lakhs a home in the 1700 illegal colonies of Delhi, Modi said emphasising that the people of the country are not ready to wait: “They want speed and scale, determination and decisiveness, sensitivity and solution” claiming that his government has worked at a fast pace.

This time around the claim is neither hollow nor exaggerated because be it cooking gas, bank accounts or toilets these are missions which have taken off and the results were there for everyone to see:  In the 2019 elections the BJP with Modi at the helm literally swept the general elections. Political analysts had then failed to fathom the effect of the social initiatives taken by the Modi government and had erroneously hinged the results on the ill- effects of demonetization and the hurriedly implemented GST. They were proved horribly wrong. Modi romped home.

Though it cannot be denied that much of his speech in Parliament was delivered keeping an eye of the forthcoming Delhi elections which has kind of become a prestige issue for the party, equally it is true that the national elections are four years away and Modi has enough time to play around, experiment, err and do course correction if and when necessary. Therefore with the luxury of time at hand, he used the opportunity to beat hollow the Opposition particularly the Congress and the myths it has propagated.

Modi took on the somewhat leaderless and rudderless Congress,  effectively attacking it for  double speak, hypocrisy and dishonesty and   being beholden to one family at the cost of the people and the nation. As against this,  he said, his government has done away Article 370, created the Kartarpur corridor, abolished triple talaq and solved the border dispute between India and Bangladesh reiterating that his government will not tread the beaten path.  But what Modi was best at was when he attacked Nehru, spoke about the alleged violation of the Constitution and rebutted charges of communalism and polarisation.

The BJP, it may be mentioned, is under attack for fanning communalism and polarising Hindus and Muslims. On all this he took the Congress head-on not shying away from touching contentious issues like the Citizenship Amendment Act that has been in the eye of a storm since December last year.

It is here that Modi liberally used Nehru and Jinnah to his, the  party and the Government’s advantage.

He spoke about the 1950 agreement on safety of minorities. He put both  the Congress and Nehru on the mat for talking about the minorities. Modi did not stop here. To substantiate, he  quoted a letter Nehru wrote to the then Chief Minister of Assam stating that a distinction must be made between Hindu refugees and Muslim immigrants. He also told the Parliament that the battered people who have come to India from across the border have a right to the citizenship of India. Why did, Modi sought to know from a rather silent Congress, Nehru not use the word “all citizens” and say minorities?

That Modi’s speech was well researched was evident from the fact that he resurrected Congressmen like Bhupendra Kumar Dutt, who Rahul Gandhi and even a generation before him, is perhaps unaware of and freedom fighter Jogendranath  Mandal who spoke about West Pakistan’s policy of  the policy of  driving out Hindus from there.

Modi was at his combative best when spoke about the Constitution. The Congress, he said,  has lost the moral right to talk about saving the Constitution on grounds that its government imposed the Emergency and dismissed several state governments. He also castigated the National Advisory Council: the de facto power above the Prime Minister and Prime Minister’s Office.

The Council, it may be recalled was headed by Mrs Sonia Gandhi during the tenure of Dr Manmohan Singh and was allegedly remote controlling the affairs of the state: “It is such people who must understand the sanctity of the Constitution” Modi said reiterating that the Citizen Amendment law will not adversely affect any Indian citizen be it Hindu, Muslim, Sikhs or any other.

While on minorities, Modi touched a chord with the Sikh community exposing the Congress completely. It was, Modi said, the Congress that engineered the 1984 riots against the Sikhs: “Are they not a minority?” he hit out as he charged the Congress of rewarding the accused.  

The Congress, it may be recalled, is under fire, for installing Kamal Nath as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. He has been accused of being party to the riots where thousands of Sikhs were massacred following the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi.  

There was this and much more in Modi’s 90-minute long speech where even while he took a jibe at Rahul Gandhi and some others the tone and tenor was combative and he clearly  scored.

Not the first time though because Modi has often got the better of his opponents thanks to word play and humour. This time around he depended on history and facts and even though he pulled some out of context he clearly emerged a winner in what was seemingly a one sided contest.

This, however, is not to discount some of the other speakers who spoke during the debate but Modi had the last man advantage. Thanks to the office he holds, it is the Prime Minister who replies to the debate which in a sense means that he has the last word. The benefit of a wrap up, as it were, leaves a mark on minds: good or bad depending on content and delivery. An astute politician like Modi  would not let the moment slip and milk it to his advantage something he has often done though this time around content, history and research  overpowered rhetoric.   

As against this Rahul Gandhi came across rather badly. Before Modi spoke inside Parliament, Rahul did outside and said something which was both unbecoming and derogatory.

Addressing a rally in New Delhi, Gandhi had said that if Modi does not address the issue of unemployment in the next six months the youth will beat him with sticks: “Dande marenge”to quote him. In his inimitable style, Modi responded during the debate:

"I heard a Congress leader say that youth will hit Modi with sticks in 6 months. I have decided that I will increase my frequency of 'Surya Namaskar'so that my back becomes so strong that it can bear the hit of so many sticks…I will make myself dandaproof", he said. The jibe went down well but it showed Rahul Gandhi in poor light. He had clearly descended to a new low: something the Congress has always criticised the BJP for.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)  

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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