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Poll outcome isn’t only standard, said PM. Yet, his interview was of a commander readying to lead troops into battle again

Prime Minister Narendra Modi began the new year by giving an interview, and setting the tone of the campaign he will lead for his party in the general election scheduled to take place in a few months. In the Q&A, several issues were covered — from the construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya to demonetisation, farmers’ distress and loan waivers to GST and middle class anxieties, surgical strikes against Pakistan to the project to clean up the Ganga, and the insecurities of minorities. More than once, the PM hinted at a wider frame, averring that, for him, electoral victory and loss were not the only criteria or standard. Yet, this was the interview of a PM getting ready to lead the troops into battle again.

On the most pressing issue of the temple in Ayodhya — the Supreme Court is set to fix the bench and date for hearing of the appeals against the Allahabad High Court verdict in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri masjid title suit — the matter is with the Court, the PM pointed out, but did not leave it at that. “After the judicial process is over, whatever be our responsibility as government, we are ready to make all efforts”, he said. Does that mean an ordinance if the verdict is adverse for the BJP-VHP? Or was the PM, who also spoke of “sanvidhan ki maryada (constitutional morality)”, saying that the government would find ways to ensure that the Court’s would be the last word? The ambiguity of the PM’s answer on a sensitive and polarising issue touches off more questions.

The political contest in 2019, the PM said, would be the “Janata” vs “Gathbandhan (Opposition alliance)”, suggesting by that description that he was inseparable from the people and that the Opposition alliance was anti-people. “Why the Mahagathbandhan”, he asked. They are only holding hands to save themselves and “their only issue is Modi”, he answered. The Congress, he said, was a “way of thinking” and a “culture”, which was “jaativaad (casteism)”, “bhai-bhatijavaad (nepotism)”, “corruption”. He shrugged off criticism of the surgical strikes by saying that those who expressed doubts over it were speaking the language of Pakistan. More than once, he insisted there is a “set of persons” tasked by unknown others with the responsibility to “set the narrative” against him, that the same “toli (gang or group)”, who criticised him in 2013-14 opposes him now. Towards the end of the interview, he spoke of the “Lutyens duniya (world)” and of himself as a “pratik” or symbol of its apparent opposite, the “non-elite duniya”. Listen to him carefully, therefore, and one thing rings out loud and clear: The PM was constantly talking back to his political opponents and critics, real and imagined, even as he was repeatedly deriding them. The bugle has been sounded and there will be no let-up in the hostilities till the vote is won and lost.

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