Modi's Somalia barb will hurt BJP's chances in Kerala

A PM is expected to connect with people and not belittle their achievements and taunt their failures.

 |  4-minute read |   14-05-2016
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It may be factually correct or incorrect, the BJP will pay the price for it’s supreme leader raking up the totally unwarranted Kerala-Somalia controversy in a speech made during the state Assembly elections campaign.

The #PoMoneModi campaign on Twitter and the ferocious social media response to the prime minister’s remark is an indication of how deeply he has hurt the people of Kerala and their pride.

Also read: A proud Malayali explains why Modi's Somalia comment has hit false Keralite pride

Modi’s Somalia comment most of all disproves one quality that he has boasted of possessing in ample: Political sujh-bujh, or understanding. Remember his taunt to the Gandhis in the Lok Sabha on MNREGA? He had said, "One can question my knowledge of many things but nobody can question my political sujh-bujh."

bjp-south-bd_051416072941.jpg The party might have debuted had Modi not bungled the BJP’s prospects. (File Photo)

Modi has now sent a message that what he lacks is political understanding. There is no reason why he should have shot himself in the foot in an election meeting. For heaven’s sake, what made him think of Somalia as comparable to Kerala, which is often compared with the most developed countries on various parametres of Human Development Index (HDI). 

It’s true that the conditions of tribal population in Kerala’s Attappady have been compared with sub-Saharan nations. It’s also true that the unemployment rate in Kerala is one of the highest in the country. But doesn’t our country compare with sub-Saharan countries on many other index of development or lack of it? Don’t we have the largest number of poor in the world?

Also read: A Keralite speaks to a Somali and finds Modi is right after all

But we are not going into the maze of statistics to prove whether or not Modi got his facts in order while drawing the Kerala-Somalia parallel on one particular parameter of infant mortality rate.

Enough has already been said about it and there is no gold standard to take a call on any issue that can have highly subjective, often biased and even racial overtones.

Perhaps, more than lack of political astuteness, it’s foot-in-mouth disease that Modi is a victim of. He shoots off his mouth on anything and everything without giving serious thought to the consequences his statements might have.

During his two years in Delhi, Modi has proved that he loves talking as much as he loves his image in the mirror, his wax statues, his selfies and his monogrammed suits.

His foot-in-mouth disease is result of his arrogance, his now proven attitude to hurt and humiliate his political opponents with a single-minded view of scoring political points.

Modi’s Somalia barbs had one limited purpose - to demean the Congress and the CPI (M). The BJP is yet to win a seat in the Kerala Assembly. The party might have debuted had Modi not bungled the BJP’s prospects.

Surely, Kerala is in India. The prime minister is expected to connect with the people, laud the people’s collective history and heritage, and not belittle their achievements and taunt their failures.

Didn’t Modi realise that taunt and broadside could only boomerang against him and not bring any benefit? Didn’t he remember how a chief minister's slight in Andhra Pradesh led to the first-ever defeat for the Congress party in 1983, and the birth of a formidable rival and alternative to the Congress?

Rajiv Gandhi, then general secretary, lost his cool and scolded the chief minister T Anjaiah in the presence of party workers at the Hyderabad airport. On a personal visit to Hyderabad, Rajiv asked Anjaiah why people had gathered at the airport when he was not on an official visit. He called the hapless chief minister a "buffoon".

The people of Andhra Pradesh were outraged. They interpreted the insult to Anjaih as an attack on their pride.

Indira Gandhi sacked Anjaiah but an ageing film star NT Rama Rao took this insult to his home state and the people personally, jumped into politics, floated Telugu Desam Party in 1982 and routed the Congress in the election. It was the same Andhra Pradesh that had stood behind Indira Gandhi and returned 41 out of 42 seats in the 1977 elections when the Congress was wiped out in the entire north India.

Modi’s penchant for gaffes and faux pas has become as predictable as his attempt to belittle and taunt political opponents.

From the Lok Sabha election in 2014 to the bitterly fought election in Bihar, there are many instances of Modi’s use of language that was low and undignified in its quality of discourse.

But all that pales into insignificance in comparison with his Somalia comment. In this case, even if Modi was factually correct, he was politically incorrect. He was seen talking about a state and not any party and any leader.

Modi is known to have a huge back office to manage his social media, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Does he have fact checkers? Does he have speech-writers?

If not, he needs them badly. They will save him the embarrassment of making gaffes and losing votes.


Ashok K Singh Ashok K Singh @kashoksingh

He is a journalist, writer and commentator.

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