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‘BJP Govt Speaks of Religion Because It Has No Development to Show For’: Ground Report

"We have had enough of this government’s bullying. Our youth are unemployed, they need jobs desperately," said another resident of Rajasthan's Bandikui village.
A congress rally at Rajasthan's Bandikui village. Photo: @INCIndia

On Tuesday (April 15), just four days before the first phase of the Lok Sabha polls, the road leading to Priyanka Gandhi’s public address at Bandikui village in Rajasthan’s Dausa district had none of the trappings that a large political event by a senior party leader usually does. There were no party flags, banners or cut outs. Wherever a lone Congress flag fluttered, it was surrounded by two or three Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) flags, a taunt of sorts, no doubt, by local BJP workers.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

The government’s ploy of freezing Congress’s bank accounts just before the Lok Sabha elections seemed to be working well. 

I couldn’t help but think about Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra which had passed through the same areas in Rajasthan over a year ago. The roads were festooned with Congress flags and cut-outs of Rahul Gandhi. But this was before the party’s finances were throttled by the Modi government.

However, what the party lacked in funds and campaigning materials, it made up in the size and enthusiasm of the crowds. Gathered in a large, dusty field in Bandikui, under a shamiana that wasn’t large enough to shelter all of them, thousands of people emerged to hear Sachin Pilot and Priyanka Gandhi speak. The day was cloudy and breezy mercifully, something which the local Congress candidate did not fail to allude to as ‘god’s special blessing’.

Priyanka began her speech by asking the crowd if they had heard Modi’s speeches. Many in the audience shouted “nahi! (no)” to which she responded, “But you should. In fact, you should listen to everyone’s speeches, so that you can differentiate between those who are telling the truth and those who are lying. Maybe Modi meant to do good for the country initially. But after ten years of big promises, speeches and lies, the country is facing an unprecedented unemployment and inflation crisis.”

The speech was free of diatribes. Instead, Priyanka reasoned with the audience, and not unlike a concerned older sister, slowly and clearly spelt out the dangers facing Indian democracy. 

“Modi ji pays a lot of lip service to the constitution in public,” she said, “but then he quietly tells his party members to go out amongst the people and let them know that the constitution will be changed. Do you realise what is happening? Modi’s people are slowly getting the public used to the idea of a changed constitution. Then the government suddenly makes decisions that run completely contrary to the constitution and to the well-being of most Indians.” 

Priyanka reminded the audience, “Our ancestors – yours and mine, both – shed their blood, sweat and tears for this constitution! Why? Because the constitution gives equal rights to everybody. Under the constitution, the prime minister, the farmer, a poor man, or a rich man, all have the same rights in a democracy. So why do they want to change the constitution? Because they want to take away your rights, and they are doing it so quietly, you don’t even see it!”

She then went on to recount how as a child, she had travelled a lot with her father, Rajiv Gandhi, who was the prime minister at the time.

“Once in his constituency, Amethi, we visited a lady’s house who gave my father a ferocious scolding. I was taken aback, having never seen anyone shout at my father like that. The lady said to my father, ‘Six months ago you promised to get a road built. It’s still not been built! I respect you, but if you don’t build my road, you’re not getting my vote!’ At which point my father calmly and patiently explained how the process was underway and how these things take some time.” (The road did get built shortly thereafter). 

“The lady finally calmed down and offered us all tea and we all sat and chatted and laughed, but I asked my father later if he felt bad at that shouting.”

“‘Not at all’, he said. It was her responsibility to scold me, and it was my responsibility to listen to her scolding.’ My father could have gotten offended, but he didn’t. A prime minister needs to listen to the people. But we are going through a very strange time. Nowadays if people speak up for their rights, they are put in jail. This needs to change.”

Priyanka spoke for 45 minutes, underscoring the importance of voting sensibly and for those who will keep the rights and dignity of the janta at the centre of their agenda. 

I asked several people afterwards what their main issues were. Every single one mentioned mehengai and berozgari (rising prices and unemployment). 

Some like Dharam Singh, a young man from Baswa village, also lamented the Agniveer scheme and how it has shaken many young people’s loyalty and devotion towards their country. Others like Bhagwaan Singh, a farmer, lamented how many lies the prime minister had told over the last 10 years. 

“Enough is enough”, he said. “The time for lies is over.”

Farmers like Prabhu Dayal Mahana and Shyam Sundar Vyas were confident that the Congress would win at least 12 to 15 seats in Rajasthan, possibly more.

Vyas said, “We have had enough of this government’s dadagiri (bullying). Our youth are unemployed. They need jobs desperately! This government wants to tamper with our constitution but we will not let them. America and Germany are now lecturing us on democracy, can you imagine? How shameful is that?” 

Sohan Lal, a bespectacled man in his thirties perhaps summed up the sentiment of the day best when he said, “This government is talking so much about religion because it does not have development, even the size of a mustard seed, to speak of. I am not a supporter of any particular party, but this time I am going to vote for change and employment. For that reason, my vote is going to the Congress.”

Rohit Kumar is an educator, author and journalist and can be reached at letsempathize@gmail.com


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