Narendra Modi's speech in Parliament: Behind emotion and drama was carefully-calibrated electoral strategy

Listen, O! Lord:
Standing things shall fall,
That which moves shall stay…

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday walked across the aisle to reach both houses of parliament, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, for his reply to the motion of thanks to the presidential address, he subconsciously recited this rhyme penned by Basaveshwara, a Hindu social reformer from Karnataka, a spiritual guru and statesman of the 12th Century.

Neither anger nor aggression was in his heart as he mulled over Basava's words that defined the democratic spirit and Indian spirituality in clear terms long before the Magna Carta — the founding text of western democracy — came into existence.

Modi was his usual self, entirely focussed on delivering his speech. As soon as he entered the hall, he realised that a belligerent Opposition was hellbent on disrupting his speech. Perhaps for the first time in the history of the Parliament, there was a determined attempt by the Opposition to disrupt the prime minister's reply to the motion of thanks.

File image of Narendra Modi. PTI

File image of Narendra Modi. PTI

Modi instantly made up his mind to turn aggressive — not emotionally but as part of a strategy. And right from the word go, he launched a calibrated aggression to rattle the Congress whose strategy to shout down the prime minister boomeranged on it. Modi raised the decibel level of his voice to neutralise the slogan-shouting from the Opposition benches. Yet, he punctuated his speech with his unique sense of humour, political sarcasm and at time intense ferocity in both the Houses.

Take for instance the manner in which he ticked off the voluble Renuka Chaudhary of the Congress who laughed out loudly in the middle of his speech. When the chair, M Venkaiah Naidu, raised an objection, Modi intervened and said, "Let her laugh; it is for the first time after the Ramayana serial that we are having the good fortune of hearing such laughter today." Those who understood the meaning of the prime minister's message broke into peals of laughter because in the TV show, such laughter was associated with the demon king Ravana.

In Lok Sabha, when he began his address amid slogan-shouting, Modi firmed up his resolve to bring out all those issues that would make Congress leaders, particularly Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, squirm in their seats. In addition to raising the issue of 'dynasty', the Emergency and corruption, he particularly referred to the manner in which Andhra Pradesh was divided to carve out the state of Telangana. He pointed out that while the Congress created Telangana after bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh for political considerations, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee created Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh for reasons of good governance.

Obviously, the reference to Telangana was not part of his original plan for the speech. When a group of Congress MPs from Andhra Pradesh attempted to disrupt the house proceedings, Modi instantly took up the cudgels and put them on the back foot.

By all indications, the his aggression was a political act that had the least of emotion and much of a sound electoral strategy. For example, the way he took a dig at the Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge was quite clearly aimed at addressing a constituency in Karnataka that is set to go to polls shortly.

He referred to Kharge's speech and pointed out that his eulogy to the 'dynasty' was only aimed at keeping intact his position in the Lok Sabha. He particularly took objection to Kharge's postulation that democracy was bequeathed to the nation by the Congress and Jawaharlal Nehru. "You are insulting Sant Basaveshwara," he said referring to the revered Lingayat saint, who is believed to have organised an open parliament called "Anubhava Mantapa" that promoted the participation of people without discrimination of caste and gender and was aimed at collective decision-making.

Obviously, Modi was astute enough to send out a message to the people of Karnataka that the Congress leaders of the state have been negating their rich historical legacy just to please a dynast in Delhi.

Updated Date: Feb 08, 2018 15:49 PM

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