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Mastering the art of political harakiri: How the opposition’s personal attack strategy has boomeranged and instead powered the Modi juggernaut

In a world with shortened attention spans, courtesy of the popularisation of platforms like reels, meme language is rapidly replacing the well-established proverbial notions of yesteryears, which were based on the lived experiences of several generations. For several months, the ‘Moye moye’ reel flooded social media platforms, crudely representing the adage, ‘You will end up getting in the same pit you dug for others’. In the political realm, the Indian opposition, ironically cobbled together under the amorphous umbrella of the I.N.D.I.A. bloc, has had its fair share of ‘Moye moye’ moments that have significantly diminished their remaining political capital.

They have knowingly or unknowingly perfected the art of political harakiri by making personal attacks and hurling abuses at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ultimately extending his lead in key battles. 

While the intended aim of such snide remarks and abhorrent personal attacks against PM Modi has been to enthuse the core voter base, it has repeatedly boomeranged on the opposition parties. Their personal attack strategy against him has only resulted in rallying neutral and undecided voters (who constitute a vast majority) behind PM Modi.

In simple arithmetics, while uncouth politicians win praise from a loyal, committed voter base that is in best case scenario not more than one-third of total eligible voters, the below-the-belt and offensive remarks shift the general public in favour of the person being targeted, in these cases, it has been predominantly PM Modi. 

Furthermore, PM Modi’s humble background and self-made image increase his relatability among voters. When personal attacks are targeted at PM Modi, a sizable chunk of voters consider them as attacks or mockery of their own backgrounds or struggles in life, thereby further solidifying their support for him.    

Redux of ‘Mein bhi Chowdikar’: Lalu Yadav’s ‘Parivar jibe’ prompts BJP ko launch ‘Modi ka Parivar’ campaign

On Sunday (3rd March), Lalu Prasad Yadav made vicious personal attacks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This has now snowballed into an electoral pitch for the BJP and the saffron party kick-starting ‘Modi ka Parivar’ campaign in a bid to pit PM Modi’s family (Indians at large) against political dynasts who in many cases are even second or higher order-dynasts.   

While addressing a rally in Patna, the RJD supremo Lalu Yadav ranted, “Modi talks about dynastic politics, but what is dynastic politics? You (Modi) should explain why you don’t have children. What can we do if Narendra Modi does not have his own family?”

Lalu Prasad Yadav, who was convicted in the fodder scam case and is now out on bail, went further and claimed that PM Modi is not a Hindu.

He was heard saying, “(Modi) keeps bragging about the Ram Mandir. He is not even a true Hindu. In Hindu tradition, a son must shave his head and beard after the death of his parents. Modi did not do so when his mother died.”

While Lalu Prasad Yadav assumed that he would garner support for RJD by targeting PM Narendra Modi’s personal life, the political strategy has now backfired on the I.N.D.I. alliance partner as it led to an outpouring of public support for PM Modi with several netizens coming forth stating that PM Modi is their family member. 

Several netizens, spearheaded by popular X user Mr Sinha, used the suffix ‘Modi’s family’ in their Twitter bio while lambasting the opposition for making personal attacks against PM Modi.

A day later, on Monday (4th March), PM Modi responded to the personal attacks against him and stated that 140 crore Indians are his family. “Jiska koi nahi uska Modi hai (The person who has no one has Modi on his side),” he stated.

“140 crore countrymen are my family. Today, crores of daughters, mothers and sisters of the country are Modi’s family. Every poor person in the country is my family,” he emphasised.

PM Modi further added, “Those who have no one, they also belong to Modi and Modi belongs to them. My India-My family, with the expansion of these feelings, I am living for you, fighting for you, and will continue to fight for you, to fulfil my dreams with determination.”

Prodded by overwhelming public support, Cabinet Ministers began suffixing their names on X(formerly Twitter) with ‘Modi ka Parivar.’ Top BJP leaders such as Amit Shah, JP Nadda, Nitin Gadkari, and Anurag Thakur extended their support to PM Modi and slammed the opposition for personal tirade against the Prime Minister.

And thus Lalu Yadav’s strategy of personal attack boomeranged as it birthed the second version of the ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ campaign, which proved to be a game-changer during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Interestingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to his countrymen as ‘parivarjano (family members)’ during his speech from the ramparts of Red Fort on the occasion of 76th Republic Day. The Opposition seems to have inadvertently played into the hands of the BJP and helped strengthen the party’s narrative ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Furthermore, it also helps the party corner the authoritarian, self-centred, and dynastic culture of the Congress-centred I.N.D.I. alliance by contrasting yesteryear’s slogan ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’ during the heydays of Congress against ‘PM Modi is a family member of every Indians’ who is tirelessly working in the service of his parivarjaan. In short, it pits the opposition’s dynastic politics against PM Modi’s selfless act of service for his family members, Indians.

Here are a plethora of instances to highlight how the opposition has mastered the art of political harakiri and played to perfection in bringing back PM Modi or his party, BJP to power in the Centre or states.

From ‘Maut ka Saudagar’ to ‘Neech’, from ‘Chaiwala’ to ‘Chowkidar Chor hai’ and beyond: PM Modi lists out Congress’ dictionary of Love (Prem ki Dictionary)

The recent ‘family jibe’ by Lalu Yadav to target PM Modi has unsurprisingly stirred the hornet’s nest, resulting in the redux of “Chowkidar chor hai” incidence. But it is just another plan of action put in place by rabid Modi haters to ‘guarantee’ a third term for BJP stalwart Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of Bharat. Conspicuously, the same script unfolded in the wee hours of the 2007 Gujarat Assembly elections, the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, the 2017 GA elections, the 2019 LS elections, the 2022 GA elections, the 2023 Karnataka Assembly elections and now in the run-up to Lok Sabha Elections 2024. 

Earning the most notoriety, the uncouth Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar infamously led a tirade against the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. While discussing Modi’s candidacy for Prime Minister, Aiyar arrogantly dismissed him for once being a ‘Chaiwala’ and adjudged him unworthy of the position. In a sheer display of aristocracy, he even went so far as to offer alms and help Modi open a chai stall outside the Congress office.

Taking his humble beginnings as a ‘Chaiwala’ in his stride, PM Modi went on to hold ‘Chai pe Charcha‘ sessions for political discussions and campaigning. As a result, the Modi-led BJP uprooted the decade-long misgovernance of the UPA, which had lost popular mandate over unabated corruption scandals, policy paralysis, and regression of India into one of the ‘Fragile Five’ economies.

With a thumping majority of 282 seats for BJP and 336 seats for NDA, Narendra Modi was sworn in as Prime Minister on 26 May 2014. It was a watershed moment for Indian politics as it was for the first time in the 67-year-long history of independent India that a non-Congress party had won a simple majority on its own.

While the precise impact and proportionality of personal attacks on the erosion of political capital for the opposition is a research work for psephologists and political scientists, the ‘Chai pe Charcha’ campaign, prompted by Aiyar’s disparaging remarks about BJP leader Modi’s background, significantly swelled support for Modi.

Sonia Gandhi’s infamous ‘Maut ka Saudagar’ barb

However, before 2014, the grand old party had the same lesson to learn: to avoid indulging in ad hominem attacks against Modi and to restrict political criticism to the policy sphere. Notably, before the 2007 Gujarat Assembly elections, Sonia Gandhi, the then Congress party President, infamously called Modi “Maut ka Saudagar” (Merchant of death). In response, the then-incumbent Gujarat CM Narendra Modi hit back, describing it as an attempt to shield the perpetrators of a terror attack on Parliament. Resultantly, the BJP government entrenched its foothold in the state and solidified it as their unbreachable fortress.

‘Neech’ and ‘Raavan’ slurs ahead of 2017 and 2022 Gujarat Assembly elections

Years later, notorious for his controversial remark Aiyar doubled down his attack on Modi and in December 2017, called PM Modi a “neech kisam ka aadmi” ahead of the Gujarat Assembly election. “Ye bahut hi neech kisam ka aadmi hai, is mein koi sabhyata nahi hai…” Aiyar said.

Aiyar’s personal attack led to a sharp tonal shift in PM Modi’s electoral pitch and it changed the game for BJP as Congress lost whatever little ground it was perceived to be gaining in Gujarat.

“You [crowd] tell me if I am a neech because I was born in a poor family? I was born in a backward class is that why I am a neech? Or because I am a Gujarati that’s why I am a neech? You tell me, what wrong have I done to the country to be called a neech? This is not the first time that Congress leaders have called Modi neech,” Modi said.

Later, in October 2022, a video went viral in which Gujarat’s President of AAP, Gopal Italia, was heard repeatedly calling PM Modi’s name “neech”. Notably, neech is a pejorative word that insults someone as a low-class person. 

Additionally, in an election rally during the Gujarat assembly election in November 2022, Congress party President Mallikarjun Kharge equated PM Modi to the demon king Raavan. He remarked at a public event in Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat that Modi has 100 heads since he is present in every election. “We see your face everywhere in corporation elections, MLA elections, and MP elections. Do you have 100 heads like Raavan?” Kharge said at a gathering in Ahmedabad’s Behrampura.

With recurrent personal attacks against PM Modi, the BJP not only repeated its state government for a record seventh straight time, but it also secured the biggest majority ever in the state winning 156 seats in an assembly strength of 182 members. Opposition parties Congress secured its lowest tally with 17 seats while AAP won 5 seats. 

‘Apologies’ for ‘Chowkidar Chor hai’, BJP’s ‘Mein bhi Chowkidar’ campaign sealing the deal

Once in an interview, Rahul Gandhi expressed his intention to ‘destroy the image’ of PM Narendra Modi, emphasising the need to undermine PM Modi’s clean and strong public image to achieve political success. The ‘chowkidar chor hai’ slogan became the Congress party’s primary line of attack during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

In the lead-up to the 2019 elections, Congress scion Rahul Gandhi frequently lied about the Rafale deal at all of his rallies, mocking Prime Minister Modi with the phrase ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’. Soon after, BJP supporters online began prefixing their names with ‘Chowkidar’. The campaign was started by Surat-based businessman ‘Mr Sinha.’ When it became trending on social media, the BJP leaders also began following suit and the party turned it into ‘Mein bhi Chowkidar’ campaign. 

While Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had to tender unconditional apology for lie attributing “Chowkidar Chor Hai” remark to Supreme Court, Prime Minister Modi remained undeterred and unflinching in his act and turned adversaries’ attacks into opportunities. Rather than stooping to personal tit-for-tat or engaging in verbal sparring, he used the chowkidar jibe to his advantage, transforming it into a badge of honor, and effectively mobilised voters by invoking the image of the ‘Chowkidar’ as the vigilant guardian of all.

Rahul Gandhi launches tirade against ‘Modi’ and ‘OBC’, blatantly peddles falsehoods fuming Narendra Modi is not from OBC community

Additionally, during an election rally in the run-up to the 2019 elections in Koral, Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi had insulted and mocked PM Modi and an entire community by saying, “Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi… how come they all have Modi as a common surname? How come all thieves have Modi as a common surname?” The Surat had pronounced him guilty in the criminal defamation case and sentenced two years sentence. It was, however, later stayed by the Supreme Court over the petitioner’s (Rahul Gandhi) arguments about the quantum of the sentencing. 

Ironically, the anti-Modi leaders have learned nothing from the ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ fiasco and have continued to resort to below-the-belt personal attacks on PM Modi. Recently, Rahul Gandhi had attacked Prime Minister Modi over his caste and claimed that PM Modi lied about his OBC caste saying that he is not an OBC by birth and later included his caste in the OBC list. However, OpIndia fact-checked Rahul Gandhi’s claim, it turned out that the Gandhi scion was himself telling a lie since it was his own party government in Gujarat and the Centre when Modi’s Modh Ghanchi caste was notified in the OBC list in 1994, many years before Modi became Gujarat’s Chief Minister.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge makes derogatory ‘poisonous snake’ remark for PM Modi

On 27th April 2023, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge called PM Modi a poisonous snake. He made these remarks in a speech he gave in Kalaburagi of Karnataka in a public meeting arranged as a part of the campaigning for the Karnataka Assembly elections.

Mallikarjun Kharge said, “PM Modi is like a ‘poisonous snake’, you might think it’s poison or not. If you lick it, you’re dead.” Mallikarjun Kharge also enacted licking as he mentioned it in his speech.

In an election rally ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections, PM Modi listed a lengthy catalog of numerous insults hurled at him, though far from exhaustive. He wove together the barrage of verbal attacks aimed at him and dubbed it the ‘Congress’ Dictionary of Love (Prem ki Dictionary).’ He underscored how certain opposition leaders, in efforts of fleeting applause and political gains, stooped to questioning not just his upbringing but also his lineage. 

(Video Courtesy – The Indian Express)

Furthermore, while speaking in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury once insulted PM Modi by comparing him to ‘gandi naali’. 

In reply to the motion of thanks in June 2019, Adhir said “I respect Prime Minister Narendra Modi because not only but he was selected twice. In between some BJP MP taunted by saying we don’t say that Indira is India and India is Indira. Adhir Ranjan reacts to it by saying, ‘Kahan Maa Ganga aur Kahan Gandhi Naali’. “

In September last year, Haryana Congress president Udai Bhan called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “R**dwa” while implying that PM Modi killed his wife alive. The Congress leader said that the “R**dwa” who killed his wife even as she is alive is ruling at the centre. 

In deeply entrenched hatred for PM Modi, the opposition has attacked his identity, caste, humble background, religion, marital status, intellect, and even his humanity (calling him an animal, etc). However, their personal attack strategy has only boomeranged and played to perfection in bringing back PM Modi to power.

Thus, the opposition’s ad hominem attacks on PM Modi have consistently gifted the BJP electoral leverage on a silver platter, steering the campaign towards a personality-centric narrative akin to a presidential-style election, where BJP leader Narendra Modi has undeniably seized an unassailable advantage.

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Paurush Gupta
Paurush Gupta
Proud Bhartiya, Hindu, Karma believer. Accidental Journalist who loves to read and write. Keen observer of National Politics and Geopolitics. Cinephile.

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