For anyone who has followed the politics of Narendra Modi knows one thing for a fact, at least the ones who bother to be honest about it – nobody can ever predict what Modi is going to do or say next. Perhaps it is the element of surprise that makes the Prime Minister a master strategist. But what helps him beat the motivated narrative against him since the early 2000s, is that he refuses to play the game by the rules set by others, something he proved yet again with his latest interview to ANI.
Since PM Modi has been elected unequivocally, in 2014, the cacophony surrounding the leader reminds one of the narratives when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The shrillness only amplified and the lies, only compounded.
One recalls Congress’ malicious propaganda against the Modi-Shah due during his Gujarat days. Whether it was about the 2002 riots, or about the encounters of gangsters Sohrabuddin and Prajapati. A carefully crafted web to implicate the two was cast. There is a famous story that is whispered in hushed corridors. It is said that when Amit Shah was jailed, his blood sugar shot up. When a leader from Congress who has been close to Sonia Gandhi and now, is close to Rahul Gandhi and one being named in AgustaWestland scam was approached for mercy by some other BJP leaders. His response was interesting. It is alleged that this Congress leader said that Amit Shah can be released from jail if he names Modi, if not, he will die in jail. Shah had then responded with the quintessential ‘you better hope I die in jail, else, the consequences won’t be pleasant if I get out alive’. Of course, these stories are in the realm of gossip and none of this can ever be confirmed.
But the sheer focus on hounding the duo has been evident ever since. Even then, Modi and Shah spoke when they had to. When the iron was hot. When the time was nigh.
Now too, with the riveting interview to ANI, PM Modi has done the same. Smita Prakash asked the toughest questions, from Rafale to AgustaWestland, Demonetisation, GST, to the recent Assembly Election loss. Most issues were a rallying point for Congress for the longest times. Rahul Gandhi constantly accused the PM of personal corruption. From ‘chowkidaar chor hai’ to ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’. Barring the few public speeches, these issues were largely unaddressed in the sparse interviews that Modi granted.
In this interview, the Prime Minister has decisively changed the narrative when he made the 2019 battle between the people of the country and the mahagathbandhan with his ‘Janta vs Mahagathbandhan’ comment. While he started the interview with a glimpse into what India was pre-2014 and what India is now, talking on a range of subjects from the electrification of 18,000 villages to India going from an environmental pariah to the leader of the earth, with each passing comment, he connected with the people who wanted to hear him speak on various issues.
The core BJP voter had a running grouse with the Prime Minister. That he didn’t speak on core issues that ring true with his support base. Whether that was the Ram temple issue or the Sabarimala issue. Today, he assuaged those feelings by clearly saying that Sabarimala was an issue of faith while Triple Talaq was that of law. He made his intent on the Ram Mandir clear by saying that he would think about an ordinance after the process of the law is complete. The timeline aside, his intent was solidified.
While the opposition would have wanted him to respond to their narrative, the Prime Minister refused to indulge. Whether the questions were about Rafale or ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’, Prime Minister chose to set the narrative. When he said that Congress is weakening the country’s defence capability with their narrative on Rafale even after the Supreme Court had given the deal a clean chit, he took the power of narrative away from Congress and placed it squarely with the understanding of the people. A simple equation would be created in the mind of the listener: Casting aspersions on Rafale = playing with India’s security. A narrative which would be very difficult for Congress to counter and a perception that would be impossible to fight. Especially, when coupled with Modi saying he was hurt when ‘some politicians’ doubted the Surgical Strike while he sat worried about our soldiers. None of this is untrue. All of this is what people expected him to say long back. But, the Prime Minister had his own timeline.
One wonders then, why did the Prime Minister not say anything for so long? When the barbs flew and Rahul Gandhi rolled up his sleeves to insult him over and over again, why did he not open up about issues like he did today?
The answer lies in Modi’s political methods. The Prime Minister had managed to bypass the media narrative completely, time and again, solely because his politics is not that of perception created through the ever whining Lutyens, but that of connecting with the voters directly. In that endeavour, he uses media as a tool to communicate with the people and not to keep the narrative-pushers happy. This is exactly what he did today. In a calm interview that asked the toughest questions about every conceivable issue, Modi changed the narrative when he deemed fit.
Congress and Rahul Gandhi were allowed to rabble-rouse because 2019 is a game that has just begun. They were allowed to peak in their narrative. Rahul said too much, too soon. Rahul said too much that didn’t stick. Now, a mere 4 or 5 months before the general elections, one has to wonder what other cards would Rahul and his motley Congress coterie pulls up? They have accused the Prime Minister of being corrupt, they have trashed every scheme of his, the lies have permeated every issue – from national security to his personal barbs against his estranged wife. They have tried playing the Hindu card, the Muslim card, the caste card, the violence card, the intolerance card, the corruption card, the farmer card, the middle-class card and the suit boot ki sarkar card. One wonders what else is left for the Congress to say in the crucial months that lead up to 2019.
To my mind, the answer is none. After peaking too soon, Congress and their clown prince would repeat the same lies over and over again, while BJP and Prime Minister Modi have a treasure trove of issues to rake up.
Elections, much like the local trains of Mumbai, is a matter of timing. With this interview to ANI, Prime Minister Modi has proven yet again that he will set the narrative in his own time and his own terms.
The Modi-Shah duo stopped playing the game by the rules set by his detractors a long time ago. It is time, now, to wait and see what their game is. If history bears testament, the gloves have just come off.