The 'shakti' controversy: BJP’s ignorance, mischief or desperation?

The PM, BJP IT cell, and Modi media accuse Rahul Gandhi of insulting women representing ‘shakti’, and Sanatan Dharma. Is anyone surprised?

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi speaks at the close of the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra in Mumbai (photo: PTI)
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi speaks at the close of the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra in Mumbai (photo: PTI)

AJ Prabal

Rahul Gandhi’s address on the evening of Sunday, 17 March, at Shivaji Park. Mumbai is in the public domain; so is his post on the micro blogging site X. This is what the Congress MP posted in Hindi on Sunday:

"Hindustan has spoken in Mumbai today, warning forces (shakti) harbouring plans to divide the country that they will never succeed in defeating INDIA. Narendra Modi is the mask that hides a negative force (shakti), a force that has enslaved institutions, the same force that is bleeding India’s farmers, workers, women, the poor and the youth and enriching crony capitalists by squeezing small and medium industries, the force (shakti) that has monopolised corruption. It is time to give a befitting response to this shakti and it is our collective responsibility. This country fed with love will once again defeat hatred. INDIA will win."

In fact, during the course of his speech in Mumbai, a prescient Gandhi anticipated the response and asserted that the prime minister would twist his words and play the victim card, that Modi ji would say that he had been insulted!

Sure enough, on Monday, the BJP’s IT cell chief started the day by posting on X that “…Rahul Gandhi declares open war against ‘shakti’. Let there be no doubt that I.N.D.I Alliance is out to destroy Sanatan Dharma, the essence of Bharatvarsh...”! He followed it up with the following post: “Hindus worship Maa Durga. She is shakti. We don’t fight shakti. Since time immemorial, asuras have tried fighting shakti, only to be destroyed…”.

It was not long before the Modi-friendly part of the media got into the act. Claiming darkly that the Congress leader had made yet another gaffe, Network 18 gleefully posted, “Rahul Gandhi’s words have often silenced many within his party into despair. While not many speak openly, there is apprehension that his words will hurt those who have to hit the ground.”

Gandhi had clearly said nothing to offend women or any religion. But the prime minister and his team either have abysmal understanding of language and rhetoric, or they are desperate enough to twist the meaning of a word to launch a vicious campaign. It should ordinarily amount to a gross violation of the model code of conduct (MCC) and it remains to be seen if the Election Commission of India (ECI) takes cognisance on its own.

Pawan Khera, chairman of the communication and publicity department of the Congress, reacted by releasing an acerbic video message in response to the prime minister’s solemn statement that he worshipped women and shakti. Where was this commitment to women, he wondered, when women were being paraded naked in Manipur, when the BJP stood by the rapists in Unnao, Hathras and Kathua?

Where was this commitment to shakti when women wrestlers were out on the street accusing BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh of sexual molestation? The PM and the BJP, he added, are devotees of the ‘demonic shakti’.

Gandhi himself posted late on Monday afternoon, elaborating on what he meant by shakti.

This is what he posted (translated from Hindi): “Modi ji does not like what I say and he always tries to give my words a twist because he knows that what I said was the truth. I had referred to a ‘power’ (shakti) which has today subjugated the country’s institutions like the CBI, IT, ED, Election Commission, media, industries and corporate bodies, and the entire constitutional structure.

“This is the power that Narendra Modi wields to write off thousands of crores of corporate loans while forcing farmers to choose suicide when they are unable to pay back much smaller amounts. It is this power which enables him to hand over the country’s ports and airports to cronies while the Indian youth are given the gift of a four-year ‘Agniveer’ contract. This is the power to which the country’s media bows, and does its bidding by suppressing the truth.

“I recognise this shakti. Narendra Modi ji also recognises what I am referring to. This power (shakti) has nothing to do with religion — it is the power of untruth, of corruption, and it is unethical; which is why every time I raise my voice against this shakti, Modi ji and his 'lie machine' are provoked into putting words in my mouth and twisting them”.

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