Why is PM Narendra Modi copying Indira Gandhi?

Saroj Nagi
Saroj NagiNov 29, 2016 | 19:09

Why is PM Narendra Modi copying Indira Gandhi?

For a prime minister who promised a "Congress-mukt Bharat" (Congress-free India), Narendra Modi appears to be drawing inspiration from some of the icons of the 130-year-old party. Indeed, in the last few days he lifted a page or two from former PM Indira Gandhi’s book.

Addressing the BJP’s parivartan yatra in Kushinagar in UP on November 27, Modi said: "Ek taraf sarkar bhrashtachar ke saare raste bandh karne me lagee hai, kale dhan ke saare raste bandh karne me lagee hai, doosri taraf, Bharat bandh," (on the one hand we are trying to stop corruption and put an end to black money, and on the other they are going for Bharat bandh). In short, it’s "bhrashtachar aur kala dhan bandh vs Bharat bandh".


Pardon me, Mr Modi, but it seems a reworked version of Indira’s broadside against the Opposition which was up in arms, among other things, over her decision to nationalise banks in 1969. "Main kehti hoon garibi hatao, voh kehte hain Indira hatao" - (I say remove poverty, they say remove Indira) - she repeatedly intoned and went on to win the 1971 general elections handsomely.

But this is not the first time Modi has tweaked the quotes of the former PM who was assassinated in 1984. He did it often as a PM candidate.  Indeed, at one of his rallies in Muzaffarpur in Bihar in March 2014, his words bore an uncanny similarity to Indira’s famous line: "Modi kehta hai mehngai ko roko, voh kehte hain Modi ko roko. Modi kehta hai bhrashtachar ko roko, voh kehte hain Modi ko roko... Hamara ek hi agenda hai: vikas, unka ek hi agenda hai, Modi ka vinaash," (Modi says stop price rise, they say stop Modi. Modi says stop corruption, they say stop Modi. We have only one agenda: development; they have only one agenda: destroy Modi).

Congressmen tacitly admit that Modi has been trying to emulate Indira, widely acknowledged as one of India’s strongest prime ministers who struck an emotional chord with the masses with her slogan of garibi hatao and measures like bank nationalisation and abolition of privy purses. 


Once ridiculed as a goongi gudiya (dumb doll), she gradually evolved into a powerful and authoritarian figure (traits that many see in Modi as well) who reduced the Congress party and the Congress government into appendages of her larger-than-life persona, towered over her colleagues, broke up Pakistan and even took on world powers, so much so that BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee hailed her as Durga. But she also had her bad patches, for instance, her blind spot for her son Sanjay or the Emergency.

"But Modi lacks Indira’s finesse, capability or preparedness. Before she split the Congress, nationalised banks or liberated Bangladesh, she did her homework and spadework and made the necessary preparations. Modi, on the other hand, has flip-flopped repeatedly even on his demonetisation drive," said a Congressman.

The big question is why is Modi trying to use Indira to make a point? Or for that matter, why is he trying to appropriate Congress and non-Congress icons?

Why is the PM trying to appropriate Congress and non-Congress icons? (Photo: PTI)

Appropriating icons

Take a look at some of his attempts to do so since he assumed power in 2014. He used Teacher’s Day on S Radhakrishan’s birth anniversary (September 5) to address school children,  launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary on October 2,  called for using the time between Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira’s birth anniversaries on November 14 and 19 to focus on the Clean India campaign in primary schools and anganwadis,  recalled Lal Bahadur Shastri’s stirring call of Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan and launched on Jaiprakash Narayan’s birth anniversary (October 11) the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana.


This is besides renaming UPA’s schemes or dedicating new programmes to the BJP-RSS leadership, for instance, the Deen Dayal Gram Jyoti Yojana or the Atal pension scheme.

Is there a method in what Modi is doing?

On the face of it, there are at least three major reasons for this.

One, the attempt is to remove these icons from the stranglehold of one party and restore them to the country as a whole. Two, it is part of his objective of establishing a "Congress-mukt Bharat ’’ which involves not just snapping the icons-Congress link but also wiping out from the public mind any synonymy between the two.

And three, deprive the Congress of icons that it invokes to reach out to the people, inspire workers, infuse energy, life and value to the organisation, perpetuate its legacy, add to the Gandhi brand and revive the party.

There are three aspects to the "Congress-mukt Bharat’’ slogan as well - electoral, socio-political and inspirational.

Take the first. Although no party can be written off completely, the Congress has been electorally mauled. It lost over 15 assembly elections between 2013 and 2016, drew a blank in as many states and Union Territories in the 2014 general elections and won just 44 of 543 elective Lok Sabha seats so that it could not even claim the status of Leader of the Opposition.  To rub it in, the BJP won its first clear majority in the Lower House and edged out the Congress as the dominant pole in Indian politics.

Over the years, the Congress’s social alliance also crumbled because of the rise of new forces and identity-based parties so that it does not even have a reliable support base now to call its own. 

Its upper caste-minority-scheduled caste base was raided by parties including the BSP, SP, RJD and the BJP. It is now an appendage of the JD(U)-RJD in Bihar as has been of the AIADMK or DMK in Tamil Nadu for years.

Its alliance of Kshtriyas, Harijans, Ahirs and Muslims (KHAM) was overrun by the Patel factor and the BJP in Gujarat. It was squeezed out by the Left and the Trinamool in West Bengal and by the BJD in Odisha. The story was repeated in most states.

The Congress’s fortunes revived when it recast itself for the new millennium. It shed its policy of "ekla chalo" (go it alone), stitched up alliances, took a pro-poor and pro-people stance and identified itself with the common man - all helping it lead a coalition at the Centre first in 2004 and then again in 2009. 

When it was decimated in 2014 it had no one to turn to except its icons for solace and inspiration for revival.

By seeking to appropriate them, Modi is trying to deprive the party of even that.

Last updated: November 29, 2016 | 19:09
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