Narendra Modi hits Karnataka campaign trail: What PM's recent statements tell us about BJP's 2019 poll pitch

In a span of less than ten days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made three highly-publicised speeches, all of which indicates the groundwork being laid down for 2019.

The prime minister recently spoke at the "Bharat ki Baat, Sabke Saath" event in London, addressed BJP leaders through the country via the NaMo app and interacted with party leaders in poll-bound Karnataka through video conferencing.

Some of the elements from Modi's recent public addresses were a throwback to his campaign ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election — for instance, repeated invocation of 'development,' references to his childhood days as a tea-seller and an endorsement of a muscular policy vis-a-vis Pakistan. Another noteworthy aspect was that he appeared to set the agenda, rather than respond to a slew of charges made lately against him by the Opposition.

'Railway station taught me about life'

In London, Narendra Modi made a detailed reference to his childhood when he sold tea at a railway station. He said, "The railway station was a golden page of my life, one which taught me to live and to struggle."

He further remarked, "The person at the railway station was Narendra Modi. The person in the Royal Palace in London is the sevak of 125 crore Indians."

Modi had made similar statements during his election campaign for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. When one recalls his 2014 campaign, the one term which comes readily to mind is 'Chai pe Charcha.' The campaign, directly as well as indirectly, had sought to foreground Modi's humble beginnings and his rise to being a prime ministerial candidate.

The corollary to this messaging has been the contention that the Congress, on the other hand, is driven by dynastic politics. So, in the coming days, one can expect more jibes from Modi referring to Congress president Rahul Gandhi as a 'shehzaada.'

Narendra Modi in London. Image courtesy: Twitter/@PIB_India

Narendra Modi in London. Image courtesy: Twitter/@PIB_India

Development pitch

While 'vikas' has long been the leitmotif of the BJP and Narendra Modi's political messaging, the prime minister in a video interaction with Karnataka party workers on Thursday expanded the concept and spoke of the need for "development, fast-paced development and all-round development."

Modi has emphasised on development in each of his public addresses in the past week. In London, he sought to identify himself with an increasingly aspirational populace by saying, "Besabri (restlessness) is not a bad thing. If a person has a cycle, a person aspires a scooter. If a person has a scooter, a person aspires a car. It is natural to aspire."

In recent times, Narendra Modi the election campaigner had used this sentiment to great success in Tripura, where he had portrayed the Left Front government as having stymied the growth of the state. A frequent barb used by the prime minister in the northeastern state was to point out that state government employees in the state were still being paid salaries as per the Fourth Pay Commission.

Similarly, during his interaction with BJP workers on Thursday, Modi took aim at the Congress for slowing down growth. He said, "In Karnataka, after we came to power, we gave the state Rs 17,000 crore to construct national highways. During the UPA rule, the government did not construct even 1,000 kilometres of roads."

In his recent speeches, he has also laid much emphasis on key government schemes, including the Ayushmaan Bharat scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and Swachh Bharat.

'I eat 20 kilograms of barbs everyday'

A key part of Narendra Modi's political campaigning, both before and after the 2014 Lok Sabha election, was to project himself as being the target of unrelenting and unfair slander. As pointed out by Darshan Desai in this article, Modi had launched a Gujarat Gaurav Yatra, during which he converted all criticism into as an insult to Gujarati pride.

A reflection of the same was seen in Modi's recent witticism when asked about how he stays fit: "For the last 20 years, I've been on a special diet. I take 20 kg or 30 kg of criticism daily."

In umpteen political rallies, the prime minister has sought to project himself as a victim of vicious and malafide allegations, and also as an agent of change. Considering that he made such a statement a year before the Lok Sabha election, this too may be a recurring theme in his political speeches in months to come. This is more so as his principal rival is Rahul Gandhi, who has been frequently attacked for being a dynast and holding an attitude of entitlement towards power.

Setting the agenda

The prime minister's recent speeches were notable not just for what they touched upon, but also for what they left out. Modi did not speak about numerous issues on which he has faced criticism from Opposition parties, including Nirav Modi, Dalit protests and accusations over the Rafale deal. The one issue which saw widespread protests and elicited a statement from Narendra Modi was the outrage following the rape cases in Kathua and Unnao. He condemned the crimes and spoke out against politicising them, saying, "When a child is raped, what could be worse? Is that the time to compare to metrics versus the earlier governments?"

Narendra Modi's recent statements publicised in the media were made during interactions with the NRI community and BJP leaders. In election rallies, the prime minister may well be more acerbic and forthright in his utterances. With Modi set to go on campaign mode in Karnataka from 1 May, impassioned proclamations of the Union government's successes and stinging accusations at the Opposition may well dominate the headlines.

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Updated Date: Apr 27, 2018 07:32:25 IST

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