Why Modi chanted 'Jai Sri Ram' during his Dussehra speech
PM and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat tangoed in perfect synchronisation.
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No sooner had curious viewers yawned their way through his speech than come the shocker. And exhilaration.
Those of his critics who had expected the prime minister to deliver a political speech on a day he had described as a "very special" were relieved.
Modi was subtle and soft on them, on Pakistan too. Political and religious symbolism ran through his speech, not chest thumping.
His supporters were a bit disappointed too. Modi had not scorched the stage on fire.
Modi sprang a surprise at the end. Though he had begun his speech with "Jai Sri Ram" chant, one thought it was one-off, not premeditated cry. When he repeated the chants "Jai Sri Ram", "Jai Jai Sri Ram" not once but five times at the end, nobody had any doubts about the message the chants carried.
It was a sneak peek at the forthcoming UP Assembly elections from the Aishbagh ground's Ramlila function. The BJP supporters were exhilarated. They had a message to take home.
A prime minister had, perhaps, for the first time begun and ended a public function with a Jai Sri Ram chant. Many prime ministers have attended the Dussehra functions at Delhi's Ramlila ground for the longest time. They have been symbolically slaying the demon king Ravana with bow and arrow but without religious chants.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee as prime minister or otherwise didn't ever chant "Jai Sri Ram" at public functions, even on the occasion of Dussehra. LK Advani coined it as a slogan during his political campaign for construction of Ram temple at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. He made a political windfall out of the issue during the 1989 and 1991 elections and later.
However, even Advani in his capacity as deputy prime minister or home minister didn't ever chant Jai Sri Ram from any public platform.
The chant became a form of greeting for the BJP leaders even inside the Parliament during his political heyday. It dissipated after having lost its political currency.
Modi broke with the tradition by going to the poll-bound UP for the Vijaya Dashami function. He broke with the tradition to begin and end the speech not with "Jai Hind" or "Bharat Mata ki Jai" but "Jai Sri Ram."
The BJP leaders have predictably defended Modi. What's wrong? It was a "religious" function and "pseudo-secularists" would read political meaning in chanting the names of Lord Ram even on Dussehra day.
One may agree with them. Merely chanting "Jai Sri Ram" doesn't mean the controversial Ayodhya Ram temple will be the chief plank of the BJP in the forthcoming UP elections.
Much as Yogi Adiyanath, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti and Vishwa Hindu Parishad would want the Ayodhya Ram temple to become an issue, the BJP won't push it to the forefront.RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat. (Photo credit: Google)
The BJP knows it has spent the issue's political currency to make it the party's sole poll plank.
But the BJP would like to remind the Hindu voters of their religious identity and Modi's association with the identity politics. If precepts and practices of secularism threaten to rob the BJP of its religious identity, efforts must be made to revive the identity through religious symbolism. It has a value but a limited one.
Currently, ultra-nationalism is a currency with the biggest value. It has to be packaged, tested and used. The UP and Punjab elections may be the testing ground.
Actually, the stage for Narendra Modi's Lucknow speech was set in Nagpur on Tuesday morning. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat in his annual traditional Dussehra address covered the ground, which Modi need not have repeated.
The RSS chief congratulated the government on its bold, fearless actions after the Uri attack. He lauded the government for Kashmir policies. He warned Pakistan, without naming it, and told the government that tough action, not merely tough policies, was required to settle the Kashmir problem.
"There should not be any compromise whatsoever on the principle that the whole of Kashmir, including Mirpur, Muzzafarabad, Gilgit and Baltistan, is an inseparable and integral part of Bharat," the RSS chief declared.
He also issued a warning to some "groups who are active in the border areas of Bharat and having different countries of the world as the hub of their operations, indulge in subversion, violence, terrorism, smuggling of drugs and narcotics, are hand in glove with such elements."
Practically everything Modi could have said.
Bhagwat defended gau rakshaks or "go sevaks" as he called them. They (go sevaks) "cannot be compared with those undesirable elements, who raking up the issue of cow slaughter or spreading unfounded rumours about cow slaughter, are busy serving their narrow personal or political ends. Nevertheless, the sacred mission of the go sevaks would continue and gather momentum," he said.
Again echoing what Modi had said earlier that only some criminal elements in the name of gau rakshaks had taken advantage of cow slaughter policy to serve their own interests.
Unlike during the NDA 1 government when Vajpayee often differed and clashed with the then RSS chief KS Sudarshan on policies, Modi and Bhagwat are on the same page. Vajpayee resisted the undue RSS interference in the government, Modi doesn't do that or can't afford to do that.
Modi tangoed in perfect synchronisation with the RSS chief on the "very special" Vijaya Dashami day.