In Rajasthan, Modi Chants Meet Stoic Silences Of Congress Supporters
The BJP seems ahead as Modi dominates the narrative, but there may be a silent vote preventing a Congress washout like in 2014
A camera and mic attract instant attention at Ratangarh in the Churu Lok Sabha constituency even in the sweltering afternoon heat. Among those who are eager to share their views is Jitendra Prajapati, a Narendra Modi supporter who runs a nearby shop.
As the camera switches on, he raises slogans in favour of the Prime Minister and says he will vote for Modi, irrespective of profits or losses.
Just next to him is a young man, inquisitive about a journalistic visit to this qasba. On being asked whether he would also wish to say something on the camera, he says in an apologetic tone: “But I am a Congress supporter.”
Once the camera switches off, he says the Congress has done much for his community, a Scheduled Tribe, for decades. He adds that he will still vote for the Congress, though Rahul Gandhi is not “Prime Ministerial material”.
This scene sums up the new ‘normal’ in Rajasthan in the midst of the Lok Sabha polls. Those who support Modi are the most eager to express their views and also the most assertive. They do not even name the Prime Minister’s party, the BJP. All they wish to speak about – often resorting to hyperbole – is Narendra Modi.
Ask them details about what they like about Modi, and they say: “Everything.” Go into specifics and many of them are at a loss of words. Yet, the most frequent answer after a brief silence is the Balakot surgical strike. While people are aware of the strike, they have no clue of global media reports questioning the casualty figures being leaked to the Indian media.
For Modi backers, it isn’t a contest between the Congress and the BJP. It is just about bringing Modi back to power. Those supporting the Congress are generally diffident, save the rare, assertive, Congress supporter.
An ex-serviceman in Behror, Alwar, refuses to speak on the camera but speaks at length off it. “I have been in the army and the misuse of the army is what irks me. There have been previous occasions when the army crossed the border but Modi misleads people by claiming credit for the surgical strikes under him and calling them unprecedented,” he says.
Asked why he does not want to speak on camera, he says he is locally identified as a pro-Congress person and does not want additional hassles.
Clearly, pro-Modi people in Rajasthan are upbeat and assertive. And there are many across constituencies, making the saffron party a favourite in the state. However, evidence to shed light on the precise status of the Congress -- which won the recent assembly election in the state – is thin.
The reason: those who speak in favour of the Congress are not upfront. They don’t want to be openly identified as pro-Congress. This apart, Congress president Rahul Gandhi does not figure in the debate, which is almost entirely about Modi. If BJP backers explain the presence of Modi as their prime – even sole -- political motivation to support the BJP, Congress supporters are also often more anti-Modi in hushed tones than pro-Rahul. However, they do talk about the Congress’ schemes – like MNREGA – once in a while.
To gauge the exact status of the Congress – though it seems reasonably clear that it is behind the BJP – is to read silences: something that is difficult for the chronicler of politics on a whirlwind tour of parts of the state.
In Ganganagar district, at the tri-junction of Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab, the owner of a roadside dhaba strikes a note of caution as he discusses the ongoing Lok Sabha election.
“The BJP is ahead in Rajasthan but the Congress is unlikely to get wiped out like last time. It will bag some seats,” he says, running his fingers over his grey moustache. “However, you may not sense it clearly, as BJP supporters are upbeat and Congress supporters speak very little. There are silent votes that will prevent a Congress washout.”
He adds that while supporters of Narendra Modi are more forthcoming in announcing their support for the BJP, many silent voters also know that local work has more to do with the MLAs and the state government than with the Prime Minister. He predicts seven-eight seats for the Congress out of 25, the rest going to the BJP.
“Modi Modi hai to par utna zyada bhi nahin jitna lagta hai (There is a Modi wave to some extent but it seems more intense than it actually is),” he says with a wry smile.
The saffron party had made a clean sweep in Rajasthan in the Modi wave of 2014. The betting market at Sikar puts the BJP tally at 19-21 in the state, with the remaining seats going to the Congress.
The aggression of Modi supporters – who refer almost entirely to him, to the exclusion of any other issue – clearly suggests on the surface that the BJP is far ahead of the Congress.
But when one notices that Congress supporters do not open up easily, one senses that the extent of the BJP’s lead depends on what, and how much, is left unsaid in the new normal of a Modi-only political narrative.
It is this that will decide the precise tally of the two parties in Rajasthan, though the BJP is likely to be ahead of the grand old party.