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How BJP Used Cong Manifesto As Poll Plank

| Updated: June 2, 2024 17:46

Third Lok Sabha campaign of Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw new themes being deployed, even as much of the hectic campaign style of the BJP under him remained the same throughout the gruelling 40-day-long cycle.

The biggest departure from the 2019 Lok Sabha campaign was the use of the Congress’s manifesto as the BJP’s main campaign pitch. Perhaps for the first time, this turned the manifesto of a political party into the most debated point in an election campaign.

On April 6, which happens to be the BJP’s foundation day, and a day after the Congress released its manifesto, PM Modi said in Ajmer, “Yesterday, the Congress party issued a bundle of lies. This is going to expose the truth of the Congress. Aap dekhiye, har panne par Bharat ke tukde karne ki boo aa rahi hai. Congress ke ghoshnapatra main wahi soch jhalakti hai jo soch azaadi ke samay Muslim League mein thi. Muslim League ke uss samay ke vicharon ko Congress aaj Bharat par thopna chahti hai (Every page reeks of breaking India into pieces. The Congress manifesto reflects the same thinking that was prevalent in the Muslim League at the time of Independence. Congress wants to impose those ideas on India today).”

In UP’s Saharanpur the same day, he said, “The Congress of today is completely disconnected from the nation’s hopes and aspirations… Its manifesto has the stamp of the then Muslim League. And what little remained in this Muslim League manifesto has been captured by Communists. One cannot spot the Congress at all in this (manifesto). Today’s Congress can’t take India forward in the 21st century,” he said.

On April 26, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge wrote to Modi, seeking time to explain in person his party’s manifesto, so that the PM “doesn’t make false statements in the future”. But the PM kept repeating his charge throughout the campaign, including as late as Tuesday, when he said there was an imprint of the Muslim League on the Congress manifesto.

On April 26, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said that the Congress manifesto promises to give Muslims a free hand in cow slaughter across the country. Addressing a rally in UP’s Sambhal Lok Sabha constituency, he said, “Inn besharmon ko dekho, ye kaise Bharat ki aastha ke saath khilwad kar rahe hain. Jis gai ko hum mata kehte hain aur puja karte hain, usey ye kasaiyon ko denge katne ke liye. Kya Hindustan isey sweekar karega (See how these shameless people are trying to play with the religious sentiments of the people of Bharat. They will hand over the cow, which we worship and treat like mother, to butchers for slaughter. Will India accept this)?” He also claimed that besides promising inheritance tax, the Congress has added cow slaughter to its manifesto.

The BJP appeared to have drawn on the section of the Congress manifesto on religious minorities, which said: “The Congress will ensure that like every citizen, minorities have the freedom of choice of dress, food, language and personal laws.” It goes on to promise the minorities “a fair share of opportunities in education, healthcare, public employment, public works contracts, skill development, sports and cultural activities without discrimination”.

BJP also remodulated its early declaration of “400 paar” as target to “make big, necessary changes”, after the Opposition translated it to mean that a returning Narendra Modi government would change the Constitution, particularly target reservations. According to BJP leaders, this line of attack by the Constitution was what prompted its counter-attack on the Congress manifesto.

The Opposition took it as proof that in these Lok Sabha elections at least, the BJP was reacting to a narrative set by the Opposition, rather than setting the narrative itself.

This election also saw the projection of a personal touch through short videos of the PM’s rallies, showing Modi halting his speech to directly address someone in the crowd. If someone was holding placards, thet PM said they may be tired and should hand over the placard to someone else for a while.

The same advice was given by him a sadhu holding a garland of beads at one of his rallies, asking him to hand the same to his staff, who would pass it on to him. Addressing the sadhu at a rally in Bardhaman, West Bengal, Modi said in a video shared on his Instagram handle: “Mahatma ji, aap prasad lekar aaye hain. Achha bhai hamare cameraman zara woh prasad le leejiye. Mujhe mil jaayega. Mala aapki mil jayegi. Aap kabse haath upar karke khade hain, thak jayenge. Is umar mein aap jitna aashirvad de rahe hain, main yahan se aapko pranam karta hoon (Mahatma ji, you have brought prasad for me. Our cameraman will take it. It will come to me. I will get your garland. You are standing for a long time with your hands up. You will get tired. I salute you from here because at this age, you are showering your blessings on me).”

In another such video posted on his YouTube channel, the PM addressed a girl holding up a placard with his sketch. “Bhai SPG waale, ye beti badhiya photo bana kar layi hai. Chhoti si gudiya. Uske haath dukhte honge, aise hi haath khade kar rakhe hain… Thank you beta. thank you. Tumhara naam pata likha hai na uss mein?… Meri chitthi aayegi (SPG people, this daughter has brought a good portrait. Her hands must be paining holding it up… Thank you, child. Hope your name and address are on it? I’ll write you a letter).”

Meetings with professionals

This time, apart from rallies, road shows and yatras, like the Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatras, BJP leaders addressed small meetings with professionals, like IT professionals, advocates, doctors, CAs, teachers, etc., across the country. These included meetings where leaders addressed select groups from the stage, as well as smaller, drawing room meetings.

Apart from its top brass, the BJP utilised its Rajya Sabha MPs known more for their professional competence than as mass leaders for this. So one of the major draws was Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar, with meetings from Shimla to Varanasi; others who held such meetings included Union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman, Rajeev Chandrashekhar and Ashwini Vaishnaw.

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