Gujarat Elections 2022: The Saurashtra-Kutch region is often seen as the political nerve centre of Gujarat. After whirlwind electoral campaigns with all political parties putting their best foot forward, the first phase of elections concluded peacefully on Thursday. But not before leaving behind its fair share of political trials and tribulations as the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress cross swords over Mallikarjun Kharge’s ‘Ravan’ remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As Modi’s response to Kharge added a spin on the day voting was held in Phase-1, the reverberations are likely to be felt in the second phase of elections on Monday as well.
To put things in context, such personal attacks against Modi are not new to the Congress. From “Maut Ka Saudagar” to “Ravan”, the list runs long. However, such personal attacks against the PM have backfired every time during elections.
There are many instances of the Congress taking a direct dig at PM Modi, and the BJP encashing it during elections. Every attack against Modi personally has only resulted in a jump in his popularity. The analysis of poll results is a tell-tale sign of how the Congress has borne the brunt every time it has launched a direct attack against the PM.
Sonia Gandhi’s ‘Maut Ka Saudagar’
Congress appeared to have an upper hand ahead of the Gujarat elections in 2007. Surveys and political pundits had predicted defeat for the BJP. Then, Sonia Gandhi, the then party president, calling Modi “Maut Ka Saudagar” (merchant of death). Known for his oratory, Narendra Modi, who was then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, weaponised the attack against him, and shot back saying Congress was trying to save the perpetrators who attacked the Parliament. The Congress was routed by BJP which formed the government in Gujarat, winning 117 of the 182 seats.
During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Narendra Modi was a prime ministerial face of the BJP. Modi was leading from the front for the BJP and one could sense a wave of support galvanising in his favour. Then came this gem from Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar. Claiming that Modi could never become prime minister of India, Aiyar said: “He could sell tea at a Congress conclave,” which was then underway. The ‘Chai-wala’ barb helped Modi project himself as someone from a humble background and continues to drive his popularity. The remark created such a flutter that BJP devised a “Chai pe Charcha” mass contact campaign around it. The Modi-led BJP registered a landslide victory in the 2014 Lok Sabah elections decimating Congress across the country. It was for the first time that the BJP had formed a government on its own.
Congress’ ‘Neech’ comment
Refusing to learn from its past mistakes, Mani Shankar Aiyar minced no words while targeting Modi again in the run-up to the 2017 Gujarat elections. This time around, Aiyar referred to the PM as “Neech Aadmi”. Result — Modi used the remark to generate a wave of sympathy for BJP. Modi used the remark to spin Aiyar’s remark into a casteist slur. And the rest is history. The groundswell changed the narrative of Patidar agitation in 2017 polls and catapulted BJP to power again with 99 seats.
‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’
The attack against the Centre over alleged irregularities in the Referring deal with France had emerged as the biggest campaign plank for the Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Rahul Gandhi, referring to PM Modi, threw the ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ time and again in the course of the party’s electoral campaign. However, the BJP blunted Rahul’s attack with a counter campaign of “Mai Bhi Chowkidar”. The Congress suffered a historic defeat as BJP registered a landslide victory with a mandate of 353 seats in Lok Sabha, its highest tally ever.
Kharge’s ‘Ravan’ remark
With assembly elections underway in Gujarat, Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge’s “Ravan” remark targeting Modi has drawn a sharp backlash from the BJP. While other BJP leaders hit back immediately after Kharge made the remarks on Monday, Modi saved the best for the last. Addressing a poll rally while campaigning for the second phase of elections on Tuesday, Modi said, “There is a competition in the Congress on who will insult Modi more…The strength that Gujarat has given me troubles Congress…. Congress doesn’t know that Gujarat is a state of Ram bhakts. Those who never believed in Lord Ram are now bringing Ravan from Ramayana to target me.” Only time will tell if and how Kharge’s remarks impact Congress’ poll fortunes. However, with a history of injuries to reflect upon, and elections in Gujarat and MCD still to come, it is safe to say that Congress could have done well to avoid it.