Gujarat polls: Modi gives voters a visual grand finale, but his last rally was lukewarm
On the last day of campaigning for the Gujarat Assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the public a visual grand finale by taking off from the Sabarmati Riverfront on a sea-plane and landing on the Dharoi dam in Mehsana. After that he went on to visit the Ambaji temple in Mehsana, his home district.
A day earlier, he held a rally on the Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad. Despite being his last rally in this campaign, it failed to attract a huge crowd. The last few rows were empty and even the delay in the PM’s arrival couldn’t help the organisers fill the seats.
Local BJP functionaries tried hard to explain the public’s lukewarm response to the PM.
“It is because a lot of people are working on the ground,” Harish Bhai Chauhan, a BJP leader from Vejalpur, said as he walked out of the rally grounds. “The polling on December 14 is more important,” he said.
In the last few rallies, Modi levelled a spate of allegations against the opposition Congress including the latest barb where he insinuated that former PM Manmohan Singh and former vice-president Hamid Ansari and Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar conspired with Pakistan to defeat BJP in Gujarat. The allegation drew a strong counter from former Manmohan Singh who demanded an apology for what he termed as an "ill-thought transgression" even as he rejected the charge as "innuendos and falsehoods".
In his Ahmedabad rally, however, Modi was slightly less caustic. He focused on the work he has done in Gujarat as the Chief Minister and accused the Congress of having tried to sabotage it.
Taking on Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi for his allegation that Modi has only served the interests of a few industrialists, Modi said, “Have I built toilets across India for Adani and Ambani?”
He also gave ample time to lampoon the charge that the Electronic Voting Machines have been rigged.
“The way Congress ‘darbaris’ are saying EVM can be linked to Bluetooth shows that the party is in the last stage of the Blue Whale Game. This is nothing but a pre-emptive exercise by the party as they know they will lose,” he said.
The rest of his speech was more or less a report card about his own performance.
Though he didn’t reiterate the Pakistan conspiracy theory, he did try to appeal to his Hindu support base – from informing how Kumbh has been included in the UNESCO Heritage list or his announcement of taking a seaplane from the Sabarmati to the Amba Devi temple.
“Ahmedabad is the epicentre of polarisation politics…Yahan nahi chalega to kahan chalega?” Harish Bhai said, coolly acknowledging the BJP’s polarisation card.
Though subdued in their response, the crowd expressed their admiration for Modi.
“Modi is the tallest leader this country has seen in many decades,” said a local.
A request to a young supporter to translate something which had the crowds clap drew a blank. “Later,” he responded. “Or I will miss the speech!”
“There is no one particular thing that I can point out which I liked in his speech. I like everything about PM Narendra Modi,” Girish Bhai Thakor, a young Ahmedabad resident remarked, as he walked back home from the rally at the Sabarmati River Front.
“Since I was born, saffron has been a matter of faith for me. It runs in my blood,” he continued, adjusting his saffron headgear.
Ashu Bhai Soni says it is only Modi who has the courage to take on Hafiz Saeed. “I read they are trying to make him the President of Pakistan. Only Modi can take him on,” he told this reporter as he waited for Prime Minister’s arrival. “Modi hi takkar le sakta hai,” Soni believes. In the background, a local singer kept the crowds engaged. “Ayodhya me Ram, Yuva ko Kaam, Kisan ko daam,” blared on the loudspeaker. A minute later one could hear “Italian Madam,” a crude reference to Sonia Gandhi.
Harish Bhai thinks Modi’s focus on the work he has done could be because of internal feedback from the agencies or the RSS. “He takes that seriously. When Anandiben was the CM, RSS gave a report that the BJP will not be able to touch the 80 mark. That is why he had to bring in Vijay Rupani,” Harish Bhai points out.
But has he been able to control the damage?