Politics of wordplay

modi-up Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing a Parivartan Sankalp Rally at Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh | PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi set out to transform India. But even as people wait to see or feel the transformation, they are able to hear it. In the language that the prime minister speaks at rallies. And also in the language his most trusted political colleague and BJP party president Amit Shah uses.

Election rallies have seen a lot of wordplay. Many have packed a phenomenal punch. A lot have made people laugh their hearts out. But this season in Uttar Pradesh, the addresses by Modi and Shah have left a bitter taste. And it will not be washed away if a BJP spokesperson loyally tries to deflect it by recalling Congress president Sonia Gandhi's years-old “Maut ke saudagar” speech in Gujarat.

The latest has been Shah's speech at Chauri Chaura constituency—playing up on Kasab, the last name of Mumbai terror accused Ajmal Kasab who was hanged in 2012. Perhaps to equate rival political parties with the terrorist, Shah said Kasab phonetically stood for Ka-Congress, Sa-Samajwadi Party, and B-BSP! People of UP should get rid of this Kasab, he said, much like Modi spoke of Congress-mukt Bharat in the summer of 2014.

Former finance minister and senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram recently traced those “Congress-mukt Bharat” speeches by Modi to the breakdown in dialogue between the Congress and the BJP. By saying that, Modi was challenging the very idea of Indian democracy, where there is space for every ideology, he explained their anger.

From the banks of the Ganga in Haridwar, Modi came down to crass street level, asking Congress leaders to shut up, saying he had the “janma patri” of all the Opposition leaders, suggesting that he had information on which he could take action anytime. It was threatening rivals, bordering bullying— something that does not befit the prime minister of India. And sometime before that, he spoke of “tightening the screws” of those linked to corruption, referring to those involved in the scams of the UPA-II.

Has anyone heard former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the tallest leader ever produced by the Sangh Parivar, use such language?

But then we should not forget the BJP is on a transformational path. Ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections veteran leader Lal Krishna Advani was also the party's prime ministerial candidate. He had gone around the country campaigning, mentioning in every speech that Dr Manmohan Singh was the weakest prime minister. But the weak Dr Sahib won, and Advani and the BJP were shown to seats in the Opposition. The gentleman that Advani is, he did tell a few people that perhaps he should not have said that, suggesting maybe that had not gone down well with the voters.

Remember Modi's remark about Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's DNA? Something that possibly cost him a victory in Bihar in 2015? That was one of many aspersions Modi cast on Kumar. Far from showing any remorse even after being made to bite the dust, BJP leaders maintained that, that was the language people liked. That is why venom-spewing leaders like Sakshi Maharaj, Giriraj Singh are popular in their constituencies!

This transformation began less than three years ago , and is the only one that has shown shoots.

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