Say cheese: Modi tries to exhort glum BJP to pull up socks in Gujarat for 2017

Virendra Pandit Gandhinagar | Updated on January 16, 2018

Palanpur: Prime Minister, Narendra Modi at the inauguration ceremony of the Amul Cheese Plant and Whey Drying Pant, in Palanpur, Banaskantha, Gujarat on Saturday. PTI Photo(PTI12_10_2016_000112b)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his close watchers say, has been a man of determination, one known to have his say, come what may, and take political and other battles to their logical conclusion. To many bhakts, he seemed to be the change-agent, the very incarnation, India was waiting for.

But, on December 10, the 33rd day of demonetisation, an effort apparently aimed to clean up the Augean stables of the Indian economy and polity, he betrayed signs which suggested that he may have bitten more than he could chew: at the airport, he looked morose and silent; his body language was unusual, and he would not willingly pose for photos. In Gandhinagar, he suddenly decided to seek the unscheduled blessings of his mother, before delivering a pep talk to exhort his pulverized party workers, who are hoping for a miracle to win the state back in the next Assembly polls in 2017.

Those who have dispassionately seen him navigate his political voyage since 1995 — from making Gujarat Keshu(bhai)less to an unfolding scenario in a cashless India — noticed this mid-stream recalibration, even a possible change of course coming in the narrative. At Deesa, after inaugurating a cheese plant, and realising the hard realities ahead, he tried to prepare the ground for a soft-landing after his promised last date on the demonetisation issue, December 30, so that he could wriggle out of his “Give-me-50-days” conundrum.

For, on a day when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj underwent a kidney transplant, he sought to suggest that ‘recuperation’ after the ongoing currency-surgery across India could only be achieved “slowly, slowly, slowly” after December 30! As the remaining 20 days tick in, and the Government and the RBI appear rather clueless, an image-conscious Modi tried not to catch up with but to postpone December 30 as far as away as possible.

Amid the many jokes that went viral the same day — sample: Rahul Gandhi’s promised ‘earthquake’ in Parliament being in the same league as Modi’s promised Achchhe Din! — the PM also sought to shift the onus on the Opposition: “They don’t allow me to speak in the Lok Sabha, so I am using this Jan Sabha platform!” This, from someone who had kissed the steps of Parliament on his very first day there, and promised the moon. Ironically, both Modi and Gandhi are now blaming each other for “not allowing” to speak in Parliament! If they wear the same war paint, Modi, who portrays to be different from the heap, may be the loser, even if Gandhi is not the winner!

In another sign to seize whatever he could, perhaps for the first time since he became the CM in 2001 and then PM in 2014, Modi acknowledged the contribution of the late Dr Verghese Kurien in the White Revolution in India, if only to impress the sceptical milk farmers of Banaskantha. Although Dr Kurien crossed swords with most political masters of the day to keep the Revolution free of predators, Modi appeared to take it as a personal affront; despite being a few kilometers away, he did not care to pay tributes to the late Milkman of India who died on September 9, 2012, at Nadiad. And, of course, he acknowledged the contribution of the founder of Banas Dairy, the late Galbabhai Nanjibhai Patel, whose birth anniversary the state BJP is celebrating amid the simmering Patel disaffection.

On the home front, too, the PM’s ‘nervousness’ did not go unnoticed. The local media noted that instead of the usual four or five times, he addressed his audience as Bhaiyon aur Behno no less than 24 times in a 41-minute speech, if only to ensure he drilled into the local people the fact that he was a son of the soil. Interestingly, he had, on October 22, hinted at a ‘surgical strike’ against black money in Gujarati language in Vadodara where nearly half the population is Hindi speaking. But, on December 10, he spoke in Hindi to a Banaskantha audience in a town where not many would understand the nuances of Hindi!

At Kamalam, the Gujarat BJP headquarters, the PM delivered a pep talk to nearly 1,000 party office-bearers who, for the first time since 2001, are bracing to combat anti-incumbency and contest Assembly polls without Modi as CM. In the post-Anandiben Patel era, the new CM, Vijay Rupani, is even being seen in party circles as Gujarat’s own O. Panneerselvam, keeping the chair warm for his mentor, Amit Shah. The ruling party, on its part, is struggling to prove that it is not an empty shell after its only cannon became the Prime Minister of India!

Published on December 12, 2016

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