Mark Antony’s oration at the funeral of Julius Caesar, who was killed by Marcus Brutus, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, is considered the high point of oratory. Antony never refers to Brutus even once in pejorative terms but with the repeated uttering of the phrase "but Brutus is an honourable man", the Roman politician succeeds in turning him the villain before people’s eyes. The figure of speech that Antony used there was irony. Narendra Modi’s final Lok Sabha address before the general election also saw a liberal dose of irony, metaphor and other figures of speech as the prime minister recounted the government’s achievements without seemingly doing so, and mocked his opponents without appearing to do so. This bravura performance was also notable for the rare note of humility and deference to senior leaders from the rival camp — harking back to a time when political rivalry didn’t cause the discourse to degenerate.
Modi started off by taking a subtle dig at "the dynasty and liberal intellectuals". Pointing out that though there have been 13 prime ministers before him, only the names of three former prime ministers were mentioned in the plate below the prime minister's chair in the House. Though he didn’t elaborate on the names, it was likely a dig at the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty — India’s most storied political family.
He mentioned "liberal intellectuals" and took a jab at them by saying that hopefully, they will find some time away from their daily sermonising to deliberate on this anomaly. Modi's intention, clearly, was to point at the symbiotic relationship between the Congress and intellectuals of liberal disposition.
Modi thanked the Speaker for helping him navigate his first innings and mentioned that he was grateful to Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav for blessing him — a reference to Mulayam’s comments earlier in the day that he wishes Modi will back in the prime minister’s chair for his second stint. This message of continuity, however, is incumbent on the BJP getting a mandate similar to the one it received in 2014.
A large part of Modi’s speech was also an urge to the people to give another decisive mandate and put in place a government that can take bold decisions. India’s prestige has increased before the world, he claimed, not because of "Modi or (external affairs minister) Sushma (Swaraj)" but due to the "reality of a decisive mandate that brought in a full majority government. So, the credit for India’s resurgence goes to its 1.25 billion people who made such a mandate possible in 2014”, the prime minister said on Wednesday.
At various points during the speech, Modi gave credit to the House and all its members (including from the Opposition) for the work done by his government. Beyond the obvious attempt at striking a note of amity and congeniality in his last address, the irony was evident. He thanked both Houses profusely for letting the 10 percent Quota Bill for the economically weaker sections pass, without mentioning that it was political compulsion on the part of BJP’s rivals, and not some higher ideal of bonhomie that forced their hands.
The passing of stringent laws against corruption and black money also found mention, and Modi claimed that every member of the House should be proud of being a part of these historic attempts. The effort evidently was to portray the NDA government as "enemy of corruption" that apart from buttressing his image also blunts the Opposition’s charges of graft.
Mentioning the fact that his government has done away with archaic laws, he referred to it as unfinished business, in the same vein thanking Mulayam for reposing faith in him. The note of confidence in Modi’s voice for a return mandate was evident. And his reference to India’s position as an economy that is sixth largest in the world and nearing $5 trillion was another pointer to the electorate that his “second innings” is imperative for the India story.
Amid the pitches, there was appreciation for senior Congress leader Mallikarun Kharge, leader of the largest party in Opposition in Lok Sabha, whom the prime minister compared with BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani for never missing a day in attendance and setting an example for other members of the House to follow. Amid the vicious sniping between two camps, this deference introduced a note of rare harmony.
Modi’s digs were saved for Rahul Gandhi who had once threatened "bhookamp" in the Parliament over corruption allegations against the prime minister. "We used to hear that an earthquake will come. No such thing happened," he said, adding that "many had flown (paper) planes inside the Parliament, but those couldn’t fly high enough to reach the heights that democracy ensures", taking an apparent gibe at Rahul Gandhi’s campaign over Rafale deal.
Modi said it is only during his first stint in the Parliament that he learnt the difference between "gale lagna and gale padna" (an apparent reference to Rahul’s sudden and awkward hug to the prime minister as a symbolism of "politics of love"). Modi added that it is the first time anyone had tried "aankhon ki gustakhiyaan" (referring to Rahul’s wink to a colleague soon after the hug inside the Parliament.
These barbs aren’t new, but the finesse with which Modi took aim and drove home his arguments deserves mention. The Opposition sat mostly with poker face while the treasury benches made merry. Modi’s speech was yet another reminder that the art of communication is most effective when used subtly, without searing rhetoric and histrionics. Rahul may take note.
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Updated Date: Feb 13, 2019 22:53:40 IST