Political Line | Kejriwal, out and about

Updated - May 13, 2024 10:27 am IST

Published - May 12, 2024 07:25 pm IST

(This is the latest edition of the Political Line newsletter curated by Varghese K. George. The Political Line newsletter is India’s political landscape explained every week. You can subscribe here to get the newsletter in your inbox every Friday.)

While the BJP was already struggling to stay in control of the narrative, Arvind Kejriwal emerged from jail. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a key beneficiary of the AAP founder’s scorched-earth attack on the political class in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election. This time, Mr. Modi is at the receiving end. Mr. Kejriwal has alleged that Union Home Minister Amit Shah would replace Mr. Modi as PM when the latter turns 75 on September 17 next year. “He had made the rule that people aged 75 will be retired. L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sumitra Mahajan, and Yashwant Sinha were retired at 75,” Mr. Kejriwal said.

The Delhi Chief Minister did not stop there. Turning the knife on a question that has become very delicate for the BJP in this election, Mr. Kejriwal alleged that there was a power struggle between Mr. Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The BJP has fielded its entire batting order to tackle Mr. Kejriwal. Mr. Shah, Mr. Adityanath, and Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh have declared that the retirement age of 75 would not apply to Mr. Modi and he would continue as PM for the full term.

This falls into a pattern of 2024. With three phases of the election over, only one thing is clear — the BJP has moved from a position of extolling its track record of 10 years in power to explaining its positions. Mr. Modi could play defensive and still hold on to the trophy, given the massive Lok Sabha majority that his party, the BJP, commands. “With no overwhelming wave of any kind apparent, the principal rivals are struggling to create one in their favour, often with means less than honourable,” we wrote in our editorial after the third phase of polling.

My colleague Anuj Kumar, who is bringing cutting-edge reportage from the key State of Uttar Pradesh, writes about eight takeaways, summed up under the title, ‘As polling moves towards the Mandal belt, reservations surface about BJP rule’.

Electioneering is all about framing the central theme. Mr. Modi, for the first time in his entire political career, is struggling on that count. He is not even sure whether to frame it as ‘For or Against Modi’. He began with ‘Modi’s Guarantees’, and moved on to several other themes. In Gujarat’s Banaskantha on May 1, the Prime Minister said, “If you have two buffaloes, the Congress will take away one if voted to power.” A few days later, he said the Congress was under the influence of Big Money. “… how much black money have they received from Adani, and Ambani?” Mr. Modi said. In the speech on buffaloes, he spoke in favour of the haves; in the Ambani-Adani speech, he spoke for the have-nots, apparently against the rich.

In the 2019 general election, Mr. Modi addressed the poor even though he was accused by the Opposition of running a “suit-boot ka sarkar”. The poor who thought even if demonetisation had not done them any good, it had harmed the rich, voted for him in large numbers as outcomes in some of the poorest parts of the country showed.

If there is a rich vs poor debate in a democracy, the poor wins. The secret sauce of capitalist democracies is to not let that happen. The Congress plans redistribution, and Mr. Modi has turned out to be the campaigner for that promise. If all those who have no buffaloes are on the Congress’s side and those with two buffaloes are on Mr. Modi’s side, the Congress wins. Because a majority of the people have no buffalo at all. In Gujarat, there are roughly 73 million people, and 10 million cattle — cows and buffaloes included. Those without a buffalo are an overwhelming majority.

Cows and buffaloes have been part of politics in India for very long, numerous books have been written on it. Just to name two, Rallying Round the Cow: sectarian strife in the Bhojpur region, c. 1888-1917 by Gyandenra Pandey is as the title suggests, on the cow protection movement; Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is what the title suggests it is.

Federalism Tract: Notes on Indian Diversity

Cattle class

Talking of cattle in Gujarat, I strongly recommend this report by my colleague Maitri Porecha on Rajkot’s Dalit cattle skinners, who live in fear with rising threats from gau rakshaks and an unsupportive administration.

The Telugu pride

Does the BJP plan to make Hyderabad a Union Territory? The BRS, a regional party, fears that a constitutional change to that effect might be tried by the BJP.

N.T. Rama Rao turned the politics of undivided Andhra Pradesh by setting up the Telugu Desam Party and his legacy is still alive in this election. This video explainer by my colleague Ravikanth Reddy throws light on his personality and politics. 

Marrying as Hindu

A recent decision of the Supreme Court has put the spotlight back on the validity of Hindu marriages in the absence of rituals and ceremonies. What did the Court say and what are the potential implications for registered marriages? Here’s an explainer:

Hindi in Gujarat

Since 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, with only a few exceptions, been consistently speaking in Hindi to connect with the Gujarati people in his home State, whether at government events or election rallies. How do we understand the language tolerance in Gujarat? Read Mahesh Langa’s State of Play column here: 

From the margins

Rahul Gandhi has promised to bring out a separate Sarna religious code for tribals.

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