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Lok Sabha polls: History shows that Congress' name-calling against Narendra Modi has time and again backfired

In December 2007, the Congress leadership believed it was on a high in the then Gujarat Assembly elections and their campaign needed one last strong punch. Due to this misplaced belief, Sonia Gandhi called Narendra Modi, the then chief minister, a “maut ka saudagar”, and the rest is history.

In October 2016, in the run-up to Uttar Pradesh elections, Rahul Gandhi accused Narendra Modi of “khoon in dalali” in the aftermath of the surgical strikes conducted by the Indian Army at terror camps inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The Congress president thought he had pulled a massive punch against Modi at a public rally at the Delhi-UP border to mark the conclusion of his month-long kisan yatra in India’s most populous state. Congress was eventually reduced to a humiliating number of seven seats in 403-member UP Assembly.

In December 2017, in the run-up to the Gujarat Assembly elections, senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar called Modi a “neech aadmi”. On all these occasions, Modi not only swung electoral discourse to his favour but also the final outcome of these elections. He gave an emotive twist on the name-calling against him, taking these adjectives to the people’s court, recalling what names other Congress leaders had used against him and thereby playing both victim and hero. He has great ability to set the agenda, picking up a word or two or a sentence from his political rivals' barbs against him.

On Wednesday, a day after Priyanka Gandhi called him 'Duryodhana', Sanjay Nirupam called him 'more cruel than Aurangzeb' and Digvijays Singh called him 'Hitler', Modi’s characteristic oratorical skills were in full display at a public rally in Kurukshethra in Haryana. He took it to an emotive pitch, saying since he had come home, a place where he in his formative days used to move around freely with a 'jhola (cotton bag)' on his shoulder, he felt like pouring his heart out on the abuses that were heaped on him by Congress.

 Lok Sabha polls: History shows that Congress name-calling against Narendra Modi has time and again backfired

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. ANI

Modi went at length for over five minutes on abusive name-calling that a number of Congress leaders had used against him before and after he became prime minister. He seemed to be going by a smart strategy of his own. After sensing the mood of the crowd, which kept on chanting 'Modi, Modi' through the better part of his speech, the prime minister turned to something entirely unexpected, beginning by responding to Rahul Gandhi’s oft repeated statement that he and Congress leaders would respond to Modi with love and affection because their party culture had trained them to shower love on political opponents. It’s a different matter, of course, that Rahul keeps on repeating his 'Chowkidar chor hai' jibe at Modi and today had to give an unconditional apology to the Supreme Court for claiming that the highest court of the land had endorsed his Modi 'chor' slogan.

“See what kind of dictionary of love they have, what kind of words are there in their love dictionary and how they shower love on their opponents," he said. He then went on to narrate the abusive names that he was called by senior Congress leaders: “Gandi naali ka keeda, gangu teli, pagal kutta, bhasmasur, bandar, virus, Dawood Ibrahim, Hitler, Gaddafi, Mussolini, Tuglaq, Natwarlal, badtameez nalayak beta, rabies bimari se peerit bandar, chooha, lahu purush, asatya ka saudagar, Ravan, saanp, bichhu, ganda admi, jahar bone wala, maut ka saudagar, most stupid PM, neech admi, person whose father’s identity was unknown, nikamma, unpadh, ganwar...” and he went on. "They abused my mother by asking who my father was," he said.

He asked the crowd to judge on the kind of culture that prevailed in Congress and in its leaders. Without naming Imran Masood, Congress vice president of Uttar Pradesh and its candidate from Saharanpur, Modi said the party had consistently rewarded and given tickets on repeated occasions to "a person who wanted to chop me into pieces".

He didn’t forget to pull another political punch when he said that the Congress’ dynasts had not reconciled with a chaiwala becoming prime minister and questioning their corrupt deeds.

Part of his strategy was evident from his appeal to social media warriors and smart netizens who may have been present in the audience – since the mainstream media wouldn’t show and publish what he said about Congress' abusive language of 'love'. Ahead of 2012 Gujarat Assembly election and 2014 parliamentary elections, Modi made best use of social media and made it one of the mainstays of his campaign strategy.

It should be noted that in the next round of polling, phase six is in 59 constituencies where BJP has a lot on stake – eight seats in Bihar, all ten in Haryana, four in Jharkhand, eight in Madhya Pradesh, 14 in Uttar Pradesh, eight in West Bengal and all seven in Delhi.

Though Modi chose not to name Priyanka Gandhi Vadra or respond to her 'Duryodhan' jibe against him, the newly appointed Congress general secretary will probably realise the hard way that she should have learnt from the consequences of mother Sonia and brother Rahul calling Modi names.

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Updated Date: May 09, 2019 17:14:36 IST