“Atha freeze kar,” Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray tells a party worker handling the projector at his Nanded rally last week. He wants him to pause a video that is being shown at the rally. In it, PM Narendra Modi is making a speech. “Look at the background carefully,” he says, pointing at the screen. “Even as the PM speaks, in the background there are photographs of soldiers who have lost their lives. He is using them to demand votes for his party, which is so shameful,” Thackeray thunders before a crowd.
While Thackeray is known to draw crowds thanks to his oratory skills, ever since his Gudi Padwa rally at Shivaji Park on April 6 and later at the Nanded rally on April 12, most of his punchlines end with “dakhav re zara (show it)”, pointing towards the projector.
The exhibits that come up on the screen vary — a past video of Modi, news article clippings showing a well-dressed Modi smiling soon after the Pulwama attacks, WhatsApp messages.
MNS leader Sandeep Deshpande said that in his election rallies, the party chief has started relying on the audio-visual medium to “remind people about what Modi had promised earlier” against what he has delivered. “These rallies have been termed ‘reminder sabhas’. A team of around 20 people has been working over the past six months to gather video footage of speeches, article links and ‘fact check’ videos to make a point. Presenting facts in this audio-visual format has a stronger impact on people as against just being told that the PM had promised such a thing.”
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At the start of his speech at the Gudi Padwa rally, Thackeray began his ‘reminder sabha’ by saying that people generally tend to forget what they did some time back and that he wanted to remind them. At the Nanded ‘sabha’, he reminds the audience that Modi has kept using soldiers to garner votes and asks for the video of the Latur speech, where he asked first-time voters to dedicate their votes to the Pulwama martyrs and the Balakot airstrikes.
When asked if Thackeray himself selected the footage or if they have a team to gather this, an MNS leader said, ” We have a social media team of 20 – 22 people who have been going through a lot of content including the speeches of PM Modi since the past six months. Whatever they think can be used politically, they pass it on to us. We then filter it further and send some of the videos that we think could be used in speeches to Thackeray.” The leader added, ” In several cases, he (Thackeray) himself remembers that the PM had said a particular thing in a speech around a particular time. The social media team than gets on to looking for that footage and passes it onto him.”
After showing the relevant excerpts of the speech, he goes on to ask, “Do you know what he actually feels about them? Atha bagha (now see).” He then gestures to the worker on the projector, who swiftly plays another video of the PM. In this, Modi is shown purportedly saying that a vyaapari (businessman) has more courage than the soldier. “See this is what he actually feels about the soldier,” Thackeray tells the crowd.
Apart from this, he also takes on the ‘IT cell trolls’ calling them laawaris (orphans) and uses photographs to show how facts are morphed and spread by them on social media platforms. Deshpande says that MNS is also using ‘fact check’ tools to call out fake news.
The strategy has worked, says Deshpande, as the BJP has not been able to counter them on facts and is resorting to
“They are just making personal attacks and saying things like MNS does not have a single elected representative. But they have not questioned any of the points mentioned in the rallies as it is all fact-based and cannot be refuted,” he said.