India’s general elections are just a month away and pre-poll campaigning is now heating up. I certainly would be voting but along with that I also intend to attend all political rallies that might be held anywhere near my place. I want to hear what the leaders really stand for and sound like. Indian media today is in a mess as most TV channels either blatantly provide incorrect reports or distort statements to suit the story they wish to push. So just based on TV reports you can’t really form an opinion about a politician. So yesterday I attended a BJP’s Narendra Modi rally held at the river bed grounds near the Baba Bhide bridge in Pune.
When I reached the grounds I was rather surprised to see the turnout. The grounds were jam packed and there were literally thousands there. While many seemed to have come in from towns near Pune, the turnout from Pune itself also seemed quite high. Fortunately the audio system was quite good. So although you could barely see who the speaker was, you could hear him quite clearly.
I was keen on listening to Nitin Gadkari however I was a bit late and missed his address. I got in when Gopinath Munde was speaking. Munde spoke of the failures of the current government and how they intend to knock off sitting MP Suresh Kalmadi from Pune. He attacked Kalmadi for making hollow promises that are of no good for Pune. From his TV interviews, I had not come in with a great impression of Munde as a communicator. However he was a far better speaker in front of a live audience. BJP also seems to have picked up the insider-outsider issue that’s been simmering in Maharashtra for some time. Munde assured the audience that if they came to power, 80% seats will be reserved for those from Maharashtra.
The highlight of the evening was supposed to be an address by Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat. Modi’s description varies from being the devil / the mastermind of the Gujarat riots / to being Hindustan ka Sher (Lion of India). Being a BJP rally, he was welcomed with chants of “Dekho Dekho Kaun Aya …“, the crowd went “Hindustan Ka Sher Aya“. And once he took the dais, he did roar.
He astutely opened his address with praises for Pune & its “intellectual” residents. He went on to convey his respect for icons in Puneite culture, from Shivaji to Savarkar and Bal Thackeray to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. His speech had a gentle sprinkling of humour and some rather filmy references like “Soniaji aap to ek maa hai… ” to “Congresswalon chullu bhar pani mey doob maro…“.
He initially tried to keep his speech focused on development issues, on roads and infrastructure, but the crowd wasn’t really responding well to it. But as soon as he started attacking Pakistan and Bangladesh and bashed up the govt. for being submissive to the US, the crowd got going. The majority of the audience consisted of young men so it wasn’t a big surprise to see that the crowd responded best when Modi got into war mongering mode. He attacked what he called vote-bank politics and how India was losing its battle on terror due to the same. He insisted that the current leaders wanted Bangladeshi migrants to flood Indian cities as these migrants become readymade vote banks.
He highlighted his successes in Gujarat and talked of how he was super tough on terror. He talked a lot about “vikas” and how a BJP government in Delhi would bring all round development and employment for the masses. His core point however was that the people should get rid of the current weak government and instead elect a government which has the guts to take on terror. “Vikas aur Suraksha” (“Development with Security”) seems to be the poll plank for the BJP this time round. Modi ended his address with calling on the audience to join him in chanting “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (Victory to Mother India).
My overall impression of Modi was that of an astute politician and a leader of the masses. From what I have read/ heard of Gujarat, he does seem to have the ability to get work done (very rare). He did not have anything fresh to say in his speech. His war mongering was scary, as I feel that if at all a war were ever essential, those discussions should be happening behind closed doors. You can’t be driving the nation into a frenzy such that if ever another 26/11 happens in India, the people would force the government to go to war.
BTW while reading up for this article I came across Modi’s website. The BJP does seem to be way ahead of other parties when it comes to being IT aware. Like LK Advani, Modi also has a rich site with news, videos and lots of other Modi content. I guess his speech today will also come up on his site http://narendramodi.in/ soon. His site actually has a section where you can request for an appointment or invite him to an event. Amazing, I wonder if he is also on twitter, writing updates while on the go.
The most striking thing about the rally today was the response Modi got from the crowd. Modi as such has held no major national office, has no base in Pune or even Maharashtra and yet the Pune crowd was treating him like a mega national leader. He sure has the momentum and I wonder if the BJP might have made a mistake by not projecting Modi as their prime ministerial candidate.