The mood of the crowd gathered at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan for a rally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday evening was clear —bulldoze any narrative the Opposition had weaved against the Bharatiya Janata Party. The crowd seemed to be determined to deny the existence of any credible Opposition in the nation and any instance of wrongdoing or failure of the present regime.
The air at the venue was inundated by a chorus of "Modi Modi" when the prime minister finally took the stage, waving at the crowd. It was already dusk by the time he began his speech.
The reaction of the crowd, however, begs the question — will the Modi brand shine this time around, as well?
Sonu Sharma, a 26-year-old who came all the way from South Delhi to Ramlila Maidan in Delhi's Chandni Chowk area, answered in the affirmative. He believes that India has no alternative to Modi for the prime minister's seat.
"Just look at what he has done for the nation. How decisively and courageously he took on Pakistan after the Pulwama terror attack and inculcated fear in India's enemy. No earlier government had the audacity to take such a step," Sharma said
National security has been at the front line of the BJP's election narrative since the Indian Air Force carried out air strikes in Balakot on a Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The saffron party has been repeatedly playing up the air strikes as a major success of the Modi government, also attacking the Congress for its alleged lackadaisical efforts to fortify India's security system.
At the rally in Delhi, Modi evoked former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi once again, alleging that under his leadership, the Congress had used aircraft carrier INS Viraat for a family holiday.
"INS Viraat was insulted by being used as a personal taxi. This happened when Rajiv Gandhi and his family went on a 10-day vacation. INS Viraat was deployed for securing our maritime borders, but it was diverted to take the Gandhi family on a vacation," Modi claimed.
To counter the BJP's attacks, the Congress has also been trying to corner the present regime on the security front with the controversy around the Rafael deal, but it has hardly had any success in making a dent in the credibility of brand Modi.
"If the allegations of corruption raised by the Congress on the Rafael deal were true, then why is the party president apologising in court?" asked Deepak Katyal, a professional from East Delhi who was part of the crowd at Ramlila Maidan. His statement was in reference to Rahul Gandhi, earlier this week, submitting an "unconditional apology" in the Supreme Court for wrongly attributing his "chowkidaar chor hai" jibe to the apex court.
However, when the conversation moved to concerns such as the jobs crisis in India, the people in the crowd seemed to grapple for answers.
Sharma, a B.Com second-year student, will soon need a job to make ends meet. But does he have hope in the present job scenario, when the employment rate in India is at a 45-year low?
"I think Modiji has to work on this issue harder in his second term as the Prime Minister of India. I believe he will deliver if he gets a second chance, for he is the only leader who is committed to the nation," Sharma said.
At the Delhi rally, the prime minister was candid in sending across the message that creation of jobs occupies the main space in his to-do list. He said: "In the past five years, we struck down 1,400 unnecessary rules to make life and carrying out businesses easier. We also did away with the interview process, cutting down scope for corruption in the selection process."
Modi also reminded the crowd that India had improved it's Ease of Doing Business ranking.
The jobs crisis is a poll plank that the Opposition has repeatedly used to target the Modi government. This took precedence after Modi, in an interview, suggested that selling pakodas was also a form of employment.
But Modi's statement earned him the respect of Pankaj Barua, a cook from Assam who works in a canteen in Delhi. "Pakoda selling is not a highly profitable business., but it certainly is a respectable one like any other profession," said Barua, who completed his work early to attend the prime minister's rally. "Modi only tried to convey that every profession should be treated with respect."
At the charged rally in Delhi, Modi certainly raised the stakes for the BJP's rivals, the Aam Aadmi Party and Congress. There was a mood in the crowd that appeared to want to have the Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi overthrown.
Though hardly anyone seem to have an answer to the claims of success made by the AAP government in Delhi about it’s achievements in health and education sector many asserted that Kejriwal did nothing for Delhi.
"You can ask anyone in Delhi about what Kejriwal has done. He has done nothing more than lie," said Aastha Kumari, a student from North West Delhi.
It is no wonder that the prime minister's "nakampanthi" (non-performance) jibe against the AAP government struck a chord with the crowd immediately.
"Delhi has seen a 'nakampanthi' model of governance. People had come to change the country, but they changed themselves instead. They supported the 'tukde tukde' gang and strengthened India's enemies," Modi said.
Many in the crowd expressed gross discontent over Kejriwal's decision to ally with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
"Under Mamata's regime, Hindus live in fear. But Kejriwal allied with her in the name of supporting a pointless demand like full statehood for Delhi," Sharma said, adding that Delhi was better off as a Union Territory as it made it easier for the city to get funding.
The crowd at the rally had a similar opinion of the Congress' proposed minimum income guarantee scheme, which many believe is a lie.
"Why didn't the Congress pay money to the poor when the party was in power?" asked Vibha Kumari, a student from North West Delhi.
Many in the crowd asserted that moves like the Goods and Services Tax and demonetisation would transform the Indian economy in the future.
However, what makes the contest in Delhi interesting is that is it the slum dwellers who will ultimately have a sway over deciding the winner. Will Balakot, GST and demonetisation appeal to them? This question remains to be answered.
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Updated Date: May 09, 2019 14:38:03 IST