Communication in politics can be tricky. Nobody would know this better than Narendra Modi, who found himself in the firing line of rival politicians for citing Hindu and Muslim festivals to make a point about religious equality. At an election rally in Fatehpur district in south-central Uttar Pradesh, the Prime Minister was quoted as saying,
“If there is a cemetery built in a village, a crematorium should be built too. If one gets electricity during Ramzan, one should get electricity on Diwali too. If one’s getting electricity on Eid, one should get electricity on Holi too. There shouldn’t be any discrimination.”
Congress seized on Modi’s remarks, accusing him of fanning communal divide. It was reported that Congress was filing a complaint with the Election Commission against Modi for his “intemperate” remarks. Party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that Modi’s comments hinted towards Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s political insecurity in Uttar Pradesh, claiming that Modi knew that he had already lost the crucial state election.
Congress’ alliance partner Samajwadi Party turned up the attack on Modi too. SP’s spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary called Modi a “terrorist.” Whatever happened of the selective outrage on Twitter at a Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy being called a “terrorist.”
Anyhow, many high-profile social media users were quick to berate Modi for practising “suffocating communalism”, while Modi supporters jumped to PM’s rescue at the same time. But the opinion, at least on Twitter, was largely against Modi as hashtag “AlliancerattlesModi” started to trend on Sunday soon after he made the remarks.
How long do I need to be a citizen of a country whose crass PM demands electricity during Diwali?
— FoolishOfficer (@IndiaSpeaksPR) February 19, 2017
The mask falls. Whither “development”? http://t.co/oWdMTqvvCg
— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) February 19, 2017
(Source: Twitter/ Sitaram Yechury)
But, was Modi really trying to polarise voters on religious lines? Does he already see the BJP losing the state election, thus starting to feel the need to fall back on religiously divisive politicking to salvage whatever is left of the Uttar Pradesh elections?
Or was he just communicating to the voters of Fatehpur, a backward district that was rated among India’s 250 most backward in 2006?
How else would you communicate to a mob of poor farmers and unemployed youth who barely understand the constitutional concepts of secularism and equality. Modi may well have been trying to tailor the message of equitable development to suit the economic demography of Fatehpur.
And even as the part of Modi’s remarks in which he mentioned the Muslim festivals before the Hindu ones were picked up instantly by his critics, the second half of that statement in which he pitched for a “non-discriminatory” approach to rolling out public services was all but missed. Modi’s critics selectively reported his statements to portray him as a “communal villain.”
BJP hasn’t also lost the UP vote yet, as Twitter users reckoned in their bid to gauge the reason behind Modi using the kabristan-shamshaan analogy during his Fatehpur rally speech. Just three phases in the seven-phase election concluded as of Sunday. The election isn’t even halfway through yet.
While attacking Modi for practising identity politics, his critics also overlook the fact that it was Congress and SP who set aside their differences and joined hands for the election, an alliance which best describes “opportunistic politics.”
The consolidating of UP’s 20 percent Muslim vote under a single political banner is the major reported reason behind the Congress-SP partnership.
Rarely have people called out the religious motive of the alliance, even as they seize on anything that comes out of Modi’s mouth, regardless how well-intentioned it may have been.
If more people from Fatehpur were as lucid as Modi’s critics and on Twitter, we may have had a more balanced public debate.
(Source: Youtube/Bharatiya Janata Party)