The NDA government has been on the defensive ever since the Congress-led opposition labelled the Modi government as “anti-farmer and pro-corporate” over its decision to dilute the land acquisition act. BJP ministers have addressed a series of press conferences and given innumerable interviews to the media over the past several days to attempt to dispel this perception.
Every BJP minister has gone out of his way to emphasise that the ruling alliance is dedicated to the welfare of the poor farmer and other underprivileged sections of society and had provided a transparent and corruption-free government over the past year. On Monday, it was the turn of the Prime Minister to challenge the perception about his government in general and about himself in particular.
Pro-poor Prime Minister
To begin with, he took a conscious decision to hold a rally in a village and address a rural audience on his government’s first anniversary. He took care to inform those present that he could have celebrated this occasion in the national capital but it was his personal decision to hold a rally at Deen Dayal Upadhayay’s birthplace as his values and philosophy had inspired his government and shown it the way to serve the poor.
Modi began by reminding his audience that he had pledged to work for the poor when he took over as prime minister a year ago and that he had not wavered from that path. The Prime Minister’s speech was replete with references to his government’s commitment to the poor and details about the various social schemes unveiled during past year for the underprivileged.
He specifically referred to the NDA government’s social security schemes like the Jan Dhan Yojana and the Atal Pension Yojana to assure his audience that his government was not acting in the interests of the corporate sector. “My government's schemes are for the poor and not rich industrialists.," he said. "Did you ever imagine that a farmer in our country could get pension after 60 years?”
Presenting a virtual report card about his government’s achievements at the rally, Modi also showcased his flagship programme – Swachch Bharat – as part of his commitment to the welfare of the poor, especially women and children. Reiterating his plans to construct toilets in every home in rural areas, Modi asked the audience, “Don't our mothers and sisters deserve toilets?”
Focus on the farmer
There was no mention of the controversial land acquisition bill over which his government is facing flak from a united opposition. Skirting this issue, the Prime Minister spoke sympathetically about the plight of “mera kisan” (my farmer) and how he would not let farmers suffer for want of proper inputs like seeds and uninterrupted power and water supply.
Modi was at pains to give details of the various schemes launched by his government for farmers. He spoke at length about the soil health cards introduced by the ruling alliance, the decision to modernise fertiliser plants and the move to coat urea with neem so that the fertiliser cannot be stolen for use in chemical factories.
Referring to Rajiv Gandhi’s remark that of the rupee allocated for villages, only 15 paise reaches the beneficiaries, Modi asserted, “ We have removed the middlemen and ensured that the full 100 paise reaches the poor villager.”
Trader over industrialist
Besides reaching out to the rural poor, Modi’s speech also had a special message for the retail trader and small businessman, long considered the BJP’s core constituency. There was only a oblique reference to big industry, and that, too, in not very flattering terms. While speaking about the provision of loans made by his government to help small businessmen through Mudra Bank, Modi remarked “Big corporates don’t generate a lot of employment...it is the small traders and businessmen who provide maximum employment.”
The country’s corporate heads who had extended unequivocal support to Modi in the last Lok Sabha election are not going to be pleased with the Prime Minister’s statement. As it is, they are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Modi government for not moving fast enough with its reforms agenda.
As always, Modi was at his combative best when he was attacking the Congress stating that those who had been voted out were now shrieking and shouting because they had lost power. Launching a strident attack against the main opposition party, he pointed to the various scams and scandals which had riddled the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. With his “achche din” slogan becoming a butt of many jokes, Modi tweaked it and instead spoke about how “burre din” were now over. Thundering in his trademark manner, he asked the audience “Burre din gaye ke nahee?" Haven't the bad days disappeared?.
Reiterating that he had provided a cleaner government than the previous regime, he wondered what fate would have befallen the country if the Congress had not been voted out. “There would have been a scam a day,” he remarked. “My government has brought burre din for those looted the country for 60 years.”