Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it very clear that a BJP victory in Uttar Pradesh is critical to his plans for 2019. He has, therefore, been willing to stoop to any level in this ongoing election campaign. He has at times been economical with truth and been on a slandering spree against his rivals.
Some may say misinformation, gaffes or smearing rivals is unbecoming of the office of the Prime Minister. But, then, the incumbent perhaps believes that anything’s fair in elections. The latest misinformation is the concoction of ‘coconut juice’ to take potshots at Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, for a remark that the latter hadn’t made at all.
Gandhi, at an election rally in Imphal East on February 28, said that as Manipur grows “nimbu (lemon), narangi (oranges), pineapple”, he hoped that “a day comes when someone in London drinks pineapple juice, and sees ‘Made in Manipur’ on the box.”
But, PM Modi—or possibly his speech writers or advisors—perhaps heard it differently. They may have heard ‘narangi’ as ‘nariyal’, which in Hindi means coconut, and conveniently borrowed the word “juice” that Gandhi had used in the context of pineapple, and concocted some “coconut juice” to slander the Congress VP.
“There is a Congress leader... he recently went to Manipur to address an election rally. There he told farmers that he would extract juice from coconuts and send it to London. In fact, a coconut possesses water (and not juice) and it is grown in Kerala,” said Modi at Maharajganj on Wednesday, trying to show off his general knowledge as well.
Modi has been mostly silent on the demonetisation decision throughout the campaign, perhaps fearing that reminding the people against the disastrous decision may turn voters against the BJP. However, when the Central Statistics Organisation reported a baffling 7% growth for the third quarter, he wasted no time to take a swipe at Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen who had termed demonetisation as a "despotic action.” Of course, the data presented wasn’t final and didn’t take into account the demonetisation’s impact on the large informal sector. The PM, however, came up with platitudes such as "hard work is more powerful than Harvard" at the Maharajganj rally.
Earlier, at a Kannauj election rally on February 15, Modi took credit for massively slashing the prices of stents—which are used to treat narrowed or weakened arteries in the heart. The fact though was that his government was forced to slash stent prices due to a Delhi High Court deadline, after having sat on the issue for as long as possible.
Coming back to his attacks against rivals. While Gandhi may have chosen restraint, BSP supremo Mayawati and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav have been giving it back to him in the same coin.
At a rally earlier in Orai, Modi said: “BSP is no longer Bahujan Samaj Party... bahujan toh Mayawati me simat gaya hai... It is Behenji Sampatti Party now.” Mayawati gave it back in the same coin by saying ‘Narendra Damodardas Modi’ meant ‘Negative Dalit Man’.
In fact, after the early phases of voting in Uttar Pradesh, when many reports claimed that the BJP had underperformed, Modi reverted to the politics of polarisation. The Election Commission may have endorsed the Supreme Court's strict no to appealing for votes on basis of religion, caste, race, community or language. But, then, Modi has a way of getting around this
At Fatehpur, he said Akhilesh "gives only to people associated with his family and the rest to Muslims.” Worse, he made a not-so-oblique statement: “If land is given for cemetery in a village, it should be given for cremation ground also. If electricity is supplied during Ramazan, it should be supplied during Diwali also. There should not be discrimination. If there’s electricity on Holi, it should be there on Eid too.” His supporters, of course, said that the PM was speaking “against discrimination” while any onlooker knew what the PM was signalling at.
Akhilesh, too, has returned the compliment to Modi whenever he could, while not naming the PM. The CM said some days back that he would appeal to Hindi superstar Amitabh Bachchan not to promote donkeys of Gujarat through a tourism advertisement for the state. Bachchan does promote Gujarat’s “wild asses”, and BJP leaders—ostensibly with double standards—appeared to be offended by the CM’s remark.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said at a press conference in Varanasi on February 28: “It has pained me that the dignity of the post (of the Prime Minister) was sought to be lowered… It is really unfortunate that such objectionable words were used against the PM, who is not just an individual but an institution in itself, whose dignity we all must maintain.”
It is not clear yet whether Singh was being sarcastic, or not. Either way, the PM has changed the level of discourse in the ongoing UP elections. March 11 will show whether it was all worth it.