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'Tell Modi We Waited'

By JYOTI PUNWANI
Last updated on: May 18, 2024 20:00 IST
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Raj Thackeray started his speech with Nehru's name, then paused.
After a few tense seconds, he resumed: "After Nehru, here is the only politician who will be PM for the third term."
Jyoti Punwani reports from Shivaji Park.

IMAGE: Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena founder Raj Thackeray and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis alongside him acknowledges the cheers of his audience. Photograph: ANI Photo

They were brought in buses by the BJP, from Goregaon (north west Mumbai), Chembur (north east Mumbai), Bandra (north west Mumbai). But in less than two hours, they wanted to leave. "Tell Modi we waited," said an elderly woman as she walked out with her younger friend.

But just then, Modi appeared on stage.

However, even that wasn't enough to make them stay on. Even two cheerleaders who kept shouting "Modi! Modi!" left as their leader was speaking.

As the PM addressed his final campaign rally in Mumbai's Shivaji Park on Friday, May 17, 2024, a steady stream of women started leaving. "We have to go home and cook," said one. "We couldn't prepare dinner before leaving; it's so hot, dinner would have spoilt."

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IMAGE: Ladies leave the Modi rally. Photograph: Jyoti Punwani

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The historic Shivaji Park was the venue for the Mahayuti's final rally in Mumbai, for which people had been told to come by 5 pm. It was blazing hot then; but water bottles had been confiscated at the entrance itself. Only warm water in paper cups was available in the park.

While the majority of attendees were members of the constituent parties that make up the Mahayuti (Eknath Shinde's Sena, Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, the BJP, Ajit Pawar's NCP and Ramdas Athawale's Republican Party of India) a few had come on their own to see and hear the PM in person.

IMAGE: Attendees at the Modi rally. Photograph: Jyoti Punwani

Two women from Dadar, north central Mumbai, said they had come hoping to meet him; a couple had come all the way from Dombivli, in neighbouring Thane district -- they had also gone earlier to Kalyan, also in Thane district -- to hear him because they were "crazy after him"; two lone women had come too. "I'm not pro-Modi," said one of them, a college professor. "I just admire the way he works at age 74. Otherwise, to be frank, I think all politicians are cheats."

The other had come despite her husband ridiculing her for taking the trouble to go in the sun instead of watching Modi on TV.

By the time the meeting began around 7 pm, the venue was 3/4ths full. It started emptying out around 8 pm. Modi arrived soon after, and the exodus stopped. But 15 minutes into his speech, it started again.

IMAGE: Attendees leave the rally as Modi began speaking. Photograph: Jyoti Punwani

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There was nothing new in the speeches of Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis. The same old charges against Uddhav Thackeray of having abandoned his father's ideals, and against the Congress of "appeasement", were made.

The two speeches that stood out were those of Ajit Pawar and Raj Thackeray.

Ajit Pawar spoke briefly about the progress that the country had made in the last 10 years under Modi. While the Mahayuti campaigned on the plank of development, he said, the MVA misled people by alleging that Modi would change the Constitution. That would never happen, he said.

Incidentally, Pawar was the only one who started his speech by invoking the names not just of Shivaji Maharaj and Dr Ambedkar (that was done by all), but also of social reformers Jyotiba Phule and Shahu Maharaj.

IMAGE: Attendees at the Modi rally at Shivaji Park. Photograph: ANI Photo

The speaker who got the most applause when his name was announced was Raj Thackeray.

The MNS chief started his speech with the name of Nehru, then paused. After a few tense seconds, he resumed: "After Nehru, here is the only politician who will be PM for the third term."

There was no point wasting time speaking about Uddhav Thackeray and the MVA, said the MNS chief, because they were not going to win. Instead, he said, he would speak on other things.

Recalling Modi's last appearance in Shivaji Park 21 years ago, Raj Thackeray said at that time (in 2003), the lotus had been voted out. Then, in 2014, people in Mumbai had helped it bloom.

Speaking about Modi's first term, Thackeray said that he had already said what he wanted to in 2019. Another tense silence followed, for during the 2019 election campaign, the MNS chief had launched a fierce campaign mocking Modi, which had become a hit with audiences.

Thackeray then went on to speak about Modi's second term.

In his second term, Modi had done what no one else had since Independence, he said: Built the Ram Mandir, abrogated Article 370, and made triple talaq illegal.

IMAGE: Raj Thackeray presents a bouquet to Modi. Photograph: ANI Photo

He then presented his demands to the PM, demands that nobody could have expected:

* Classical language status for Marathi;

* Including in school syllabi the 125 years of the Maratha empire;

* Constituting a committee of international experts to preserve Shivaji's forts;

* A proper Mumbai-Goa highway;

* Commit to not changing the Constitution

* Improve Mumbai's local train situation

* While there lakhs of patriotic Muslims who've lived here for generations, there are a handful of troublemakers among them. The army must be sent to flush them out.

IMAGE: Republican Party leaders Ramadas Athawale, left, and Jogendra Kawade, right, present Modi with a memento affirming the primacy of the Constitution and democracy. Photograph: ANI Photo

Describing Mumbai as the city where dreams get fulfilled, Modi said he had come to this city with his dream of 2047. His speech covered the usual themes of the last 70 years spent in "hopelessness"; under the Congress; Nehru's alleged lack of belief in Indians; "vote bank politics", "vote jehad".

Bomb blasts were a common feature for Mumbaikars, said Modi, but after he became PM they could step out of their homes safely.

He also claimed to have lifted crores of Indians out of poverty and attracted record foreign investment.

IMAGE: Modi supporters express their vociferous support for him at the Shivaji Park rally. Photograph: ANI Photo

 

IMAGE: Attendees at the Modi rally. Photograph: Jyoti Punwani

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The finale to Maharashtra's ruling alliance's Lok Sabha campaign made it clear that at least in Mumbai, there was no Modi wave.

Photographs curated by Manisha Kotian/Rediff.com

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JYOTI PUNWANI / Rediff.com at Shivaji Park
 
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