In Kerala, Modi and Rahul Gandhi target each other, and the Left

THE WEEK delves into essence of these 2 speeches, dissecting their content, nuances

modi rahul A collage showing Rahul Gandhi, on left, and PM Narendra Modi | Official Facebook accounts

As Kerala immerses itself in the fervent atmosphere of election season, top leaders from various political parties have begun descending upon the southern state. On Monday (April 15), both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi delivered public speeches in two different parts of the state. Modi addressed a massive gathering in Kunnamkulam in Thrissur, accompanied by BJP candidates from five constituencies on stage. Meanwhile, Gandhi conducted a roadshow in the town of Sulthan Bathery in his constituency Wayanad, followed by a speech delivered under the scorching sun. Here, THE WEEK delves into the essence of these two speeches, dissecting their content and nuances.

Gandhi’s speech in Wayanad had two major parts. In the first part, he spoke about the larger fight with RSS ideology and in the second part he spoke about the local issues of Wayanad. Notably, CPI candidate in Wayanad, Annie Raja, as well as the BJP have been pointing out that Gandhi had not been available to solve the life-threatening issues faced by the people of Wayanad in the last five years. So, it was only logical that the Congress leader touched Wayanad-specific issues also in his speech.

In the first part of his speech, Gandhi was clearly trying to present the idea that only Congress can deliver an inclusive India. He started his speech by thanking everyone from Wayanad, “regardless of their political thinking”, for showing love and affection. “When I say people of Wayanad are like my family, I mean every single person of Wayanad. Sometimes in one family, brother and sister have different political ideas. That does not mean brother and sister do not love and care for each other.” The opening statement indicated his clear intention to speak about inclusiveness.

He then moved on to point out that the main fight is between the ideology of RSS and the ideology of the Indian National Congress. Gandhi launched an attack on Modi, saying, “Prime minister speaks about 'One Nation, One People, One Language and One Leader'. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of our country.”

He cited the example of language to talk about how imposing something on people is disrespecting the diversity of this country. “Language is not something that is imposed from the top. Because language is something that comes out of a person’s heart. To tell a person from Kerala that your language is inferior to Hindi, for example, is an insult to the people of Kerala. It is like saying what is coming out of your heart is inferior to what is coming out of a person UP,” he said. Gandhi then proceeded to explain the difference in accepting the diversity of the country as the main difference between the Congress and the RSS.

“We want to listen to what is in the heart of the people. We want to love and respect your language, culture, and belief. Whereas they want to impose something from the top,” he said and then concluded this part with a statement saying: “We did not get the freedom from the British to be colonised by the ideology of the RSS.”

The Congress leader then proceeded to speak about the local issues:

He spoke about his awareness of the human-animal conflict and night travel ban (to the border state of Karnataka from Wayanad)—both hot topics that are affecting Wayanad’s peaceful life, livelihood and economic opportunities. “I have already told you that I am committed to resolving these problems. I have written multiple times on these issues to the chief minister and the Central government. And we will continue to put pressure on them. It is a complicated issue, but we are going to resolve this issue together,” he promised. Notably, Gandhi did not present solutions for these “complex issues”. From this point, he attempted to bring his emotional connection with Wayanad once again. “I was telling (K.C.) Venugopal when I landed, ‘whenever I go to Wayanad, I feel I am going home’. I am going to pressurise my mother to come here and stay with you for 10 days. I would have told her to come for one month. But she has a slight problem with humidity. But I told her you are missing the most beautiful places on earth.” Though the intention was to talk about his connection, it appears that Gandhi was trivialising the issues faced by the people of Wayanad by talking about bringing his mother to Wayanad for a short leisure stay to enjoy its scenic beauty.

Gandhi then moved on to the totally unrelated issue of Nilambur railway (or the rail connectivity to Wayanad). He cited it as a very easy issue to resolve. “When we come to (power) in Delhi that is very easy to resolve. The reality is we are not in the government in Delhi or Kerala. Both these governments are giving step-motherly treatment to Wayanad. This is the fact. We are going to come to power in Delhi and in Kerala and we are going to resolve this issue,” he said. Interestingly, this project had been hanging fire for more than a decade. In fact, it was a UDF government that appointed Metro Man E. Sreedharan, to prepare the final survey for the Wayanad Rail project back in 2013. The Oommen Chandy government allocated Rs5 crore in its 2014-15 state budget for this project and even agreed to bear the pro rata share of 50 per cent of cost of construction.

He ended his speech talking about the ill-equipped Government medical college in Mananthavady. “I understand that the night ban is a complex issue, man-animal conflict is a complex issue. But the issue with medical college is a simple issue. It is an easy issue to resolve. I have written so many times to the chief minister. Please resolve the issues. This is not a complicated issue. But for some reason it just keeps postponed and this is really not fair…. It is an issue that can be resolved within two minutes.” Gandhi said. The question is why the MP did not put enough “pressure” as he promised to solve this issue that can be solved in “just two minutes”.

Modi’s speech had three main parts: one discussing the national scene and his achievements, the second addressing Kerala-specific issues, and finally concluding with an attack on Rahul Gandhi and the INDIA alliance. Modi started on an optimistic note, saying the “positive atmosphere prevailing in the country today is infusing new energy into the resolve for building a developed India”. He mentioned Thriprayar Sree Rama Temple as the “Ayodhya of South India”. Interestingly, he had visited this Ram temple in Thrissur in January, days before the consecration at the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22.

Modi then proceeded to talk about the BJP manifesto that had been released on Sunday, as well as some of the benefits his government has provided to the poorer sections in Kerala. From there, Modi proceeded to discuss some of BJP’s promises for Kerala.

“There are many temples, churches, and places of faith in Kerala. In the next five years, the BJP government will work to make Kerala's heritage known globally. Kerala will be connected to highways, expressways, and the Vande Bharat trains network.”

Modi then discussed his promises for Kerala’s tourism sector and also spoke about BJP’s promise for bullet trains running in all four directions (north, east, west, and south) of the country. Then, Modi began the first round of Congress bashing, saying the grand old party had weakened India's image, whereas the BJP government has made India a strong country.

“Today, when an Indian goes abroad, he is respected,” he claimed. “Today's India has the strength to bring back its citizens stranded in wars. Today's India, instead of depending on other countries in disasters like Corona, also helps other countries by making itself self-reliant.”

Modi then made another claim, stating that the NDA government works on the thoughts of Narayana Guru.

Narayana Guru, born into an Ezhava family, was one of the most visionary spiritual leaders and social reformers from Kerala. He led the reform movement against the brutal caste practices prevalent in Kerala society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, advocating against divisions based on caste or religion. This is not the first time Modi has invoked Guru’s name in his speeches, and this should be seen in the context of BJP’s grand plans to expand its vote base to the Ezhava community—the largest Hindu community in Kerala. For many decades, Ezhavas have been seen as a vote base for the CPI(M), and the BJP is attempting to change this dynamic. To exemplify that his government is following Guru’s “thought”, Modi proceeded to discuss how “Lok Kalyan and Garib Kalyan” have become BJP's priorities, citing examples of the work his government has done in Kerala.

He then launched a scathing criticism of the Congress-led UDF and CPI(M)-led LDF in the state.

“The country is moving forward rapidly. However, the LDF and UDF are working to pull Kerala backwards. The state government is obstructing the development projects undertaken for Kerala by the NDA government. This state government also wants to halt the National Highway projects. The character of the Left is such that where there is Left rule, nothing else remains, and nothing is right. The Left has ruined Bengal, brought misery to Tripura, and is now doing the same in Kerala. In a peaceful state like Kerala, violence and lawlessness have become common. Political killings are openly carried out in Kerala. Havens for antisocial elements have been established, and those disrupting social harmony are protected. The public's money is being plundered in the state. The state government introduces new models of corruption, intending to loot every penny of the people,” he said.

The PM then cited the co-operative bank scam in Karuvannur as an example of the “Left's looting”. “The bank where the hard-earned money of poor and middle-class families was deposited has been bankrupted by the leaders of the CPI(M). Such blatant betrayal

against the poor is rarely seen, and because of this scam, the future of thousands of families is at stake,” he said.

The multi-crore loan scam that happened at Karuvannur Service Cooperative Bank in Thrissur district—which had been controlled by the CPI(M) for decades—is clearly an Achilles heel for the CPI(M), which claimed a moral and legal victory in issues like the electoral bond, and Modi was clearly kicking at it.

Modi said the people of the state are lamenting today, saying their hard-earned income has been lost. “The chief minister of the CPI(M) has been lying for three years about returning the money of the victims of the co-operative scam and taking action against the culprits,” he said, directing his attack towards Pinarayi Vijayan.

He also announced that the Enforcement Directorate has seized illegal assets worth nearly Rs 90 crore, and that the legal process is underway to return the money to the victims. “The BJP government has already ensured the return of Rs 17,000 crore to the victims of scams in the country. Therefore, the BJP government will leave no stone unturned to return the money to the victims of the co-operative scam,” he declared.

Incidentally, in a surprise move, the ED on Monday informed the court that the amount seized from the accused in the Karuvannur Bank Fraud Case can be handed over to the depositors. Perfect timing, indeed!

Modi then proceeded to attack the state government on issues of “financial mismanagement,” placing the blame entirely on the state government for the state’s economic woes. He reserved the final portion of his speech to mock Rahul Gandhi as well as the INDIA alliance.

“For one of the big leaders of Congress, it has become difficult to retain his family-held constituency in Uttar Pradesh, so he has established a new base in Kerala. Congress has made backdoor deals with organisations involved in terrorist activities to win elections. Congress leaders remain silent against the cooperative bank scam. While the Congress prince is seeking votes from the people of Kerala, he is not uttering a word in the interest of the public,” he said.

Modi ended with a warning that the people of Kerala “need to be cautious of both LDF and UDF”.

“Congress calls Left leaders terrorists in Kerala, but in Delhi, Congress and Left leaders sit together and form electoral alliances. In Tamil Nadu, which is the neighbouring state of Kerala, Congress, which accuses the Left of terrorism, is contesting elections in alliance with the Left. Left leaders, who accuse Congress of nepotism, are now taking tips on dynastic politics from Congress leaders,” he said.

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