A long, gruelling and bitterly contested campaign for the 2019 general election came to an end as the sun went down on Friday. The viciousness lingered though, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah holding a press conference where Modi did not take a single question and the latter reviled the Opposition; and Congress President Rahul Gandhi holding his own press conference where he charged the Modi-Shah administration with obsession with hubris that made it insensitive to the suffering of ordinary people.
Exuding confidence that the BJP will get more than 300 seats on its own when the result of the general election is announced on May 23, Shah said the chant of the people was now no longer ‘Modi once again’ but ‘Modi again and again’.
Shah provided extensive facts and figures to prove that under Modi, India had had the most hardworking government ever, which rolled out more than 133 schemes and interacted systematically with the beneficiaries to understand how they had been received and how they could be improved.
“Our mandate comes from our work. It does not come from a handshake of two leaders in a Delhi drawing room who then order their supporters to vote according to their diktat, like bonded labourers,” Shah said, in a barely veiled allusion to the alliance between Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party and Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Shah said his only regret was that while the Modi government had convinced people about the purity of its intent and its hard work, it had failed to convey this to the media which remained unconvinced.
In a short address, Modi gave thanks and said the beauty of India was that the country would carry on with its normal work – including cricket and the IPL – and still conduct elections. He said his government stood out from others because of its commitment to last-mile delivery. “Today is 17 May. Five years ago on 17 May, many were ruined: because they put their faith in gamblers and the satta market, which had predicted that the Congress would get 150 seats and the BJP would get 218,” Modi said, adding his government would return with full majority once again.
Shah’s only reference to the present and future allies was that when the BJP forms the government after May 23, the current allies would be part of the government and “our doors will be open to those who support our principles and policies”.
Shah was asked questions about the show-cause notice issued to three of its candidates — Pragya Singh Thakur, Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde and Nalin Kumar Kateel — who had put out statements lionising Nathuram Godse. Shah said a disciplinary committee would hear the explanation offered by the candidates and recommend further action.
He said it would be wrong to conflate the decision to field Pragya as a candidate and her remarks about Godse. “We fielded her as a candidate as part of our silent protest (satyagraha) against those who attempted to define Hindus as terrorists” he said. “We don’t endorse her remarks about Gandhiji’s killers.”
At his interaction, Rahul Gandhi said the BJP government had marketing and television but truth was on the side of the Congress. He said he was constrained to say that among all the institutions undermined by the BJP, the Election Commission of India (ECI) had also been emasculated as an independent watchdog. “The entire election was drawn up as per the convenience of Modiji’s campaign programme. The whole country has understood this,” he said.
“We raised issues like unemployment, the crisis faced by farmers, corruption in the Rafael deal, the sorry state of the economy, demonetisation, and the Gabbar Singh Tax, but none of the questions we raised was answered by Modi. I don’t know what world he is living in” he said.
Gandhi said the Congress, SP and BSP were on the same page. “The aim is to dislodge Narendra Modi,” he said, but added that any decision on further steps in the direction of Opposition unity would be taken only after May 23.
“I don’t want to second-guess the verdict of the people of India – I respect it too much,” he said.