What the Prime Minister chose not to say appears to be far more politically revealing than what he actually said in the two southern states
As the opposition in Tamil Nadu mounted its by now familiar #GoBackModi campaign yet again, the Prime Minister spoke at Guntur, Andhra Pradesh first and later at Tirupur in Tamil Nadu on Sunday.
Black flags welcomed him and he took his usual digs at the Congress’ first family and at friend-turned-foe Chandrababu Naidu of the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh.
What is politically more loaded though, is what Modi did not say.
In Tamil Nadu, Modi chose not to criticise the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the main opposition party in the state and whose leader MK Stalin is firmly on the side of the Congress. Stalin had even proposed Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s name as a Prime Ministerial candidate for 2019 in December last year.
But Modi attacked only the Congress and its Tamil Nadu leader P Chidambaram in his speech in the textile hub of Tirupur.
“There was a very wise minister from Tamil Nadu. You know who I am talking about. Right, the ‘recounting minister’. The man who thinks all the knowledge in the world resides only in his brain. In his typical arrogance, he says, why is the middle class so worried about price rise? They buy such expensive ice-creams and mineral water. Mr ‘Recounting Minister’, middle class does not need the taunts by you and the Congress. They have rejected you and will continue to do so,” he said.
The Congress, in a state where it has minor political presence as compared to regional heavyweights like the DMK and the ruling AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) was chosen to be Modi’s object of ire.
Rewind to his speech at Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. Modi uttered not a word about the Congress party. Instead, he trained his guns on the ruling regional party TDP and its leader Chandrababu Naidu.
Narendra Modi attacks only Chandrababu Naidu and his son in Guntur
Although Modi’s Sunday tour was dubbed as a run-up to the 2019 elections, he did not utter a word about either the Congress party in Andhra Pradesh or about TDP’s main rival Jaganmohan Reddy’s party, the YSR Congress. There was no mention either of Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party.
And experts feel this is because Modi has clearly identified his main rival in Andhra.
“The BJP is trying to capitalise on the resentment against some parties (in the context of Chandrababu Naidu) and keeping options open for others (in the context of DMK),” said K Venkataramanan, senior journalist and political analyst. “Their strategy is to isolate the Congress and its potential allies – this is the strategy being used in AP.”
Experts feel that Modi, by making his targets clear, has identified his political rivals. And from among the parties whose names are missing in his speeches, he is hoping to find some post-poll friends.
Modi has also clarified to Tamil Nadu what one of his party’s key strategies will be in 2019 – the wooing of caste-based votebanks. He has also given away what the first sought after community is likely to be – the Vellala Gounders of the Kongu region in western Tamil Nadu.
Narendra Modi invokes the name of Dheeran Chinnamalai, a Vellala Gounder caste symbol
His invoking of Dheeran Chinnamalai, a legendary warrior of the Kongu region who is now a symbol for Vellala Gounder (OBC community) pride, is an indication of where the BJP’s attentions lie.
Modi also dipped into the Congress’ past leadership to attempt to appropriate Kamaraj, former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and one of the biggest critics of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Narendra Modi attempts to appropriate yet another Congress leader, Kamaraj
“The BJP has tried to appropriate eminent leaders who have had differences with the Nehru-Gandhi family,” said political analyst Venkataramanan. “Sardar Patel, BR Ambedkar, Kamaraj and even Pranab Mukherjee have all had differences with the family. This is why the BJP doesn’t mind invoking the name of Kamaraj in Tamil Nadu,” he added.
In the meanwhile, in Andhra, the game is on as the TDP and Naidu gear up for a high pitched battle against Modi. A senior TDP leader told The Lede on condition of anonymity – “We have hired some Gujarati journalists and some pro-Congress PR agencies in Delhi to dig into Modi’s past which could be used during 2019 election campaign. We are doing the same as the BJP has done – it is corporate warfare,” he said.
(With additional inputs from A Joseph and Sudhakar Balasundaram)