For Modi, appropriation is the name of the game

BY RK MISRA  

When you hear hoof beats, think of horses. So, when the results of  Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strategic gamble in Maharashtra and Haryana  are the stuff of screaming headlines, it is  his  ‘hostile takeover’ and ‘acquisitions’ imagery , played with panache on the Indian political chessboard, that needs dissemination.
An artful imagery is at work, and repeatedly so, inviting comparisons with late Prime Minister   Indira Gandhi in conjuring up a cause. Whether it was the abolition of princely privy purse, bank nationalization or the portrayal of her own party veterans of the Sixties-Morarji Desai, Atulya Ghosh and Sanjiva Reddy who formed into the Syndicate in the Congress-as archaic gasbags, she successfully portrayed them as old hats hindering her   progressive policies and ‘Garibi Hatao’ programmes, thus ensuring a mandate for herself for life.
In some ways, Modi has done one up on Indira. He has not only carried forward the imagery, but even fleshed out the phenomenon. After assuming power for the first time in an earthquake- battered Gujarat in 2001, Modi consolidated his hold through a landslide victory in the state Assembly elections that followed  the Godhra train carnage  and  the communal riots thereafter.
Battling the worldwide uproar over the communal cleaving, the Gujarat chief minister resorted to a diversionary measure that sought to take the fight straight into the rival camp. He aggressively targeted the Congress- led UPA government at the Centre, holding it responsible for all the ills plaguing  his government. “It is an attack on the  five crore Gujaratis (their asmita)”, he thundered while railing at  the CBI as the Congress Bureau of Investigations. The chief minister is now the Prime Minister, but not a word is heard now, though the CBI continues almost in the same vein what  with West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamta Bannerji caught in it’s cross-hairs, a La the Sardha chit fund scam, besides numerous others-all of Opposition stock.
A strong votary of combative  politics, the hindu hriday samrat provided first glimpses of his national ambitions in September 2011 when he went on a three- day ‘sadbhavana’ fast  for  communal harmony .While the professed purpose was to expose Gujarat’s detractors, his absence on the initial days of the party national executive identified veteran L.K.Advani and party president Nitin Gadkari as the targets of his ire. One has since been put in the ‘old man’s house’ and the other sits docile in his cabinet.
Projecting the image of a  forward thinking, development-oriented, aggressive political leader with  leadership qualities, Modi caught the imagination of a country sick of coalition politics and  propelled the BJP to  a majority in the 2014 general elections. In gay abandon, Modi has been nonchalantly  indulging in ‘hostile’ image takeovers and acquisitions. While he was  still the Gujarat  chief minister, he shrewdly appropriated the legacy of  iconic Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel  from the Congress. Besides riling on a daily basis on how the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty had  denied the ‘Gujarati’ Sardar his due, Modi promptly announced  a statue  twice the size of the Statue of Liberty-what awed him in his first US visit  many years ago- for the Sardar in the state .No sooner did he become the party’s prime ministerial candidate, than this project  turned into an elaborate national election exercise though hardly anything is heard about it these days.
Thereafter it was the turn of Gandhian imagery, aligned with the ‘Clean India ‘ drive  and launched big time on October 2, the birth anniversary of  the Mahatma. What was  an article of faith with the father of the nation once, is now wholly appropriated by Prime Minister Modi.
India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi have also been brought into the ambit of Modi’s image appropriation. The two persons he riled against and even had their names removed from the two UPA government schemes-JNURM and Indira Awas Yojna-were picked up by Modi at a Haryana  election rally to announce a  cleanliness drive beginning  from the 125th birthday of   Nehru on, Nov 14 to November 19, the birthday of Mrs Gandhi. Genuine or campaign stunt, the fact is that Modi appropriates with ease and discards at leisure. The Maharashtra  Assembly elections also saw him similarly  basking  in the reflected glory of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj leaving  the BJP’s estranged ally, Shiv Sena, chaffing, red-faced, and provoking  a bitter war of words.
Though Modi has spent a lifetime baiting the Nehru-Gandhi family, his move to  observe Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary, one presumes, was more tactical in nature. The Congress has made it known that it intends to celebrate the event in a big way so the announcement was made as much to appropriate legacy as to deflect public attention. While merely linking  the Nehru celebration with the cleanliness drive, Modi has already announced grand plans to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
In hindsight, it   seems   the Prime Minister is locked in a game of  strip poker with the Congress. One by one, he is peeling off  both- their greats and  governments. Old birds may be hard to pluck, but when the fox teaches, count your geese!



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