Updated: February 15, 2017 2:41:33 pm
“BHARAT KISI ko chedta nahin. Koi Bharat ko chede toh Bharat use chodta nahin ( India doesn’t provoke anyone. But if someone provokes India, then India doesn’t forgive),” said Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Gangoh, a town in western UP’s Saharanpur.
On the campaign trail, addressing audiences mostly comprising unemployed youth, the poor and farmers, Rajnath has unfailingly been evoking two key themes: “rashtriya swabhiman (national pride)” and Pakistan. And in the process, this former chief minister of UP also ensures that his voters know how he has handled the Home Ministry in New Delhi with an iron hand.
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On February 11, addressing voters in an area from where a video clipping had emerged in 2014 of Congress leader Imran Masood boasting of “chopping Narendra Modi”, Rajnath said: “Hamara padosi apni harkaton se baaz nahi aata (Our neighbour has not refrained from committing mischievous acts).”
In Gangoh, said to be a communally sensitive constituency, Masood’s brother Noman is pitted against BJP’s Pradeep Chowdhary in the second phase of polls on February 15.
To instill “nationalism” in this remote corner, Rajnath also narrated details about his visit to Pakistan for the SAARC summit last August. “I was not keen to go to Pakistan. The SAARC summit was attended by representatives of many countries. I told my Minister of State to go. But, two days before the event, my officials told me, ‘Sir, there are rallies against you and Prime Minister Modi on the streets of Pakistan, which are led by chiefs of a terrorist organisation and they are saying that they won’t allow the Home Minister of India to enter borders of Pakistan’. I decided then that I will certainly visit the land of Pakistan and not our MoS.”
With the audience cheering in response, Rajnath said, “When I reached Islamabad airport, there were officers from the government and military to receive me. I was scheduled to go to the hotel by road but they told me that ‘sadak per haalat theek nahi hai’ (the situation is not conducive on the road)’. They told me that I will be taken by a helicopter. I was a guest in that country so I thought it’s better to follow the arrangements they have decided for me. I landed half-a-kilometre away from the hotel. In that short journey, I saw crowds all over. Huge processions were chanting ‘Rajnath Singh wapas jao (Rajnath Singh go back). Jitne naare lagte jaate the, Rajnath Singh ka honsala utna buland ho raha tha (As the slogan-chanting increased, Rajnath Singh’s spirit was getting stronger).”
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With that claim met with another round of applause, Rajnath continued: “That night, I decided that in this circumstance in which I have come to Pakistan…mein Pakistan ki dharti ki chaati per khade hokar Pakistan ko benaqab karke hi wapas jaaonga (Now, standing on its soil, I will leave only after exposing Pakistan). I don’t want to tell lies. In the presence of representatives of many countries, I said, ‘Bharat ko thodne ki koshish bandh karo (Stop trying to break India). Put efforts to control terrorists. You want one more war with India. This can’t go on’. The people of Pakistan got furious (Pakistan ke log tamtama gaye).”
Rajnath also claimed that he refused to drink one drop of water in Pakistan. Speaking in Gangoh and the neighbouring Behat constituency, Rajnath said, “Pakistan, the host country, left the venue. All representatives went to the luncheon hall…. I am a proud citizen of India. I asked where is the Home Minister of Pakistan. They informed me that he had got furious and left in a huff. I said he didn’t leave in a huff, he left cautiously. Then, I told my secretary that I won’t eat here, call my aircraft, I will go back to India).”
Sensing the positive response in an area, where neither demonetisation nor any state/national concern has emerged as a weighty election issue, Rajnath concluded, “I am talking of Pakistan because self-respect and pride are the strongest emotions of the human heart. You can compromise with anything but not your self-respect.”
What was evident from his rallies here was that the second-most powerful man in the government, known for his control over language, Rajnath does not really enjoy the politics on the fast lanes of social media. His government may talk of Digital India but Rajnath doesn’t keep his cellphone, laptop or Ipad by the side.
But the man who successfully fought his first election in 1977 to become MLA knows his saffron politics — hence, the Pakistan jibe in an area known for its communally polarised nature of voting, and the reference to his “rashtriya swabhiman ki bhavna (the feeling of national pride)” when he takes decisions.
“In September, I was watching TV at home. I saw the news that Pakistan had killed five Indians, including one woman and an innocent child. I immediately called DGMO (Director General of Military Operation) and asked: ‘…what is this I am watching on TV?’ He informed me that it was correct. I asked him, ‘what is the response of our Army?’ He said that our army waved white flags 16 times. ‘what does it mean?’ I asked. I was told this is a long tradition. When we show white flags, we convey that we don’t want to fight with Pakistan. We want to talk.”
And then, Rajnath said, “At that moment, I told him, ‘from today, it’s my standing order. Pehli goli Bharat ki taraf se nahin chalni chahiye, agar ek bhi goli Pakistan ki taraf se chalti hai to Bharat ki goli ko gina nahin jana chahiye (India should not fire first. But if Pakistan fires a bullet then we should retaliate without counting our bullets).”
It was not all about Pakistan, though. The Home Minister also promised that if BJP came to power, the government would “buy grains at higher prices directly from farmers.” “Ek kalam ki nok se aur ek boond syahi se aapka karza maaf karenge (The BJP will forgo farmers’ debts as soon as it comes to power).”
Another peculiar feature of his rallies here is that Rajnath invites the candidates on stage and promises voters that after the election, their local MLA and MP will surely invite him to the same venues as he loves to meet people.
While this has prompted some BJP leaders to wonder if the Home Minister would become the Chief Minister if BJP wins this election, the man himself plays down the idea, saying, “I am Home Minister of India. What’s wrong?”