‘If India had won the 2023 Cricket World Cup, BJP had plans to put Narendra Modi holding the cup on every hoarding in Rajasthan’

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NOVEMBER 26, 2023

A week after the epic World Cup final between Australia and India was played in Ahmedabad, the after-effects and follow-ups that blow up into controversies refuse to recede. Whether it was a complaint from the spouse of an Aussie star against right-wing trolls egging her on to “prove” her loyalty to India just by virtue of being a person of Indian origin; or Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unexpected visit to the Indian players’ locker room ostensibly to condole after the rout, the news flow won’t cease.

On November 23, Supriya Shrinate, a Congress spokesperson known from her combative style on TV, dropped a bombshell of a tweet in Hindi that went viral. She claimed that she met a “big” leader of the BJP at the Jaipur airport who revealed that his party had planned a mega blitz for Modi in Rajasthan that voted on November 25. “If our team had won, we would have replaced all our hoardings with the victory,” said the tweet quoting the BJP leader.

The plan, the BJP leader said, was to carpet bomb Team India’s pictures with the PM. Supriya said the pictures she was shown on the leader’s phone had Modi sporting the team’s jersey, trophy in hand and flashing the victory sign. The leader claimed a roadshow was planned in Jaipur with Modi, the players and the trophy travelling in an open bus. However, she was told the plan was a “top secret”.

In an interview, Shrinate refused to reveal her source. Edited excerpts:

Your tweet is packed with information. But we are curious to know the name of the BJP leader who shared the information. At least please drop broad hints. Like is he or she from Rajasthan or the central BJP? Contesting the election?

Sources are sacrosanct, you would know that as a journalist. Suffice to say, he isn’t a “nobody”.

What was your sense about why he chose to spill the beans — possibly without realising the implications? Or was he just an eager beaver or was there an agenda at work?

He was lamenting how all the preparation was done and how it all went to waste. In the process he may have spilled some beans.

Some of your Congress colleagues were or are senior BCCI [Board of Control for Cricket in India] and state cricket board members. Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Shukla is the most prominent. He is the BCCI vice-president. Were you mindful of their reactions when you tweeted this?

No, my Twitter handle reflects my views. I said nothing derogatory about anyone that would have evoked any reactions. I just put out information that I gathered.

[A senior BCCI official TOI+ spoke with said he was not aware of any plan to take the Indian players to Jaipur or any other city for roadshows. The plan, he said, was to take them around Ahmedabad in an open bus. There was no plan to have Modi in this bus. This official requested that his identity be protected.]

But Shukla must be a worried person. He can’t really ruffle feathers in the cricketing or the ruling establishment for the matter. Can he?

No answer.

Was Shukla aware of the post-World Cup blitz planned for PM Modi in Rajasthan?

I don’t know, we haven’t spoken about this.

Has the Congress carried out any cross-checks on this, like was the BCCI on board with the plan to include Indian players in the Jaipur roadshow?

The Congress is a political party. I would encourage investigative journalists to do some more digging. The lead is there to be followed.

Something of this sort could not have possibly been planned without the BCCI being on board. Taking the ‘victorious’ Indian team to Jaipur and other cities involves massive logistics.

Are you suggesting there would be any issue in bringing the BCCI under Jay Shah on board for publicity for Mr Modi?

[Jay Shah, BCCI secretary and president of the Asian Cricket Council, is the son of Union home minister Amit Shah.]

Did the BJP source share the dates with you for the roadshow?

No. But he mentioned that roadshows were planned in some state capitals, including Jaipur.

What were the pictures that the BJP leader showed you?

I have described the pictures in my tweet. Saw a few of a beaming Mr Modi in the cricket jersey, with the World Cup in his hand and Team India on the poster too.

Why do you think the BJP’s plan to tom-tom an Indian victory in a state going to elections should be a problem?

There is a limit to taking credit for things in this country. He wants to take credit for Olympic medals, for Chandrayaan launch and now this. What is his contribution to any of these events? Team India represents each one of us, their loss or victory belongs to every Indian and not to one party or one man.

But I don’t expect anything else from the prime minister. He didn’t shy away from seeking votes in the name of Pulwama victims. I still remember BJP posters with the images of martyred soldiers during the 2019 general election.

You don’t think Rahul Gandhi’s ‘panauti’ jibe [at Modi] was problematic? It should be a problem for a party that holds ‘scientific temper’ central to its value system, right?

Firstly, it’s not a word we attributed to Mr Modi. It was the top trend on social media and it was resonating with people. Even in the public meeting, the word was voiced by the people, Rahulji simply repeated what the crowd was prompting. In fact, in the first instance, he didn’t even name the prime minister. It’s interesting that the BJP automatically presumed he meant Mr. Modi.

But I have a serious issue with the hypocrisy at play here. Nobody had an issue when Mr Modi declared himself ‘naseebwala’ [propitious] for falling crude oil prices and his opponents as ‘badnaseeb’ [inauspicious]. No one said a word when he referred to his opponent as ‘Murkhon ka sardar’ [king of fools], there was no outrage when he called our former president ‘Congress ki vidhwa’ [Congress’ widow] or when he called a married woman ‘50 crore girlfriend’ or said the former prime minister bathed with a raincoat.

Not a word was said when Amit Shah during an election rally a few days back referred to my party as ‘Rahu Ketu’. So, for anyone displaying outrage right now, I have only this to say — if you kept quiet when the BJP spent crores of rupees targeting my leader Mr Gandhi by distorting his statements and weaponising fake news against him, your selective outrage right now exposes your double standards even further. And in any case, ‘panauti’ is a name the country has organically given Mr. Modi.

In fact, the word that the BJP is objecting to was first used for Indira Gandhi, within two hours of the World Cup loss by the head of BJP’s fake news factory also known as its IT cell.

[November 19 when the World Cup final was played was also Indira Gandhi’s birth anniversary.]

Away from the tweet, Rajasthan votes today [this interview was conducted on November 25] and you were in the state. From all accounts it seems like a battle between the incumbent government’s welfare schemes and people’s desire for change. Have the messages embedded in Ashok Gehlot’s flagship schemes, notably health insurance and mobile phones for women, got across? I ask because in 2013 too Gehlot had launched a health scheme, free generic medicines for the poor, among other schemes. But it didn’t work on the ground because the Congress couldn’t disseminate their import. He lost the election, though there were other reasons too…

I disagree with your assumption. Rajasthan is witnessing a battle between a government that has tirelessly worked for the welfare of people. The BJP’s sole intention is to polarise, divide and spread hatred. Rajasthan has emerged as a model state across India. The success of our schemes like Chiranjeevi or gas cylinders at ₹500 or Annapurna Yojana or Old Pension Scheme have benefited the people of Rajasthan.

In fact, the BJP has taken a cue from Rajasthan and made similar promises in its manifestos in other states too. But people can tell the difference between colossal ‘jumlas’ and our guarantees. We have a track record of delivering on our promises across other states too. Even in Rajasthan, we have delivered nearly 96% of our 2018 manifesto.

And rest assured, the schemes have been carried to the ground, people are aware. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and people have benefitted from our schemes and good governance.

This time, the Congress campaign revolved around Gehlot and his welfare programmes.

The Congress campaign rests on the stellar work done by our government headed by Mr .Gehlot and our seven guarantees for the state going ahead. What’s wrong with talking about welfare programmes that the BJP and Mr. Modi haven’t just lauded but have been forced to copy?

Gehlot was plagued by factionalism for the better part of his tenure and was fire-fighting all the time. Don’t you think the central command could have handled the leadership issue at the start and eased out Gehlot?

The Congress party is India’s most vibrant political movement; we are a melting pot of cultures, languages and ideologies. We represent India’s diversity in its most glorious form. We were born out of India’s freedom movement, we are absolutely democratic and some difference of opinion is not just likely but it is also welcome. Unfortunately, any difference of opinion amidst us gets disproportionate play in the media while grave differences in the BJP are masked.

The Congress in Rajasthan is united more than ever before and we are fighting this election unitedly. We are certain of a favourable outcome.

Talking of which, why is the Congress so scared of effecting leadership transition from one generation to another? Rajasthan is saddled with Gehlot and Madhya Pradesh with the Kamal Nath-Digvijay Singh duo?

This statement is farthest from the truth. The Congress party amended its constitution to ensure greater representation to the young, OBCs [other backward classes], SCs [scheduled castes], STs [scheduled tribes], women in key party positions. Our commitment to social justice reflects in the newly composed Congress Working Committee (CWC) where representation has been given to SC/ST/OBC/minority/women, who together comprise 66.6% of the total strength of the top decision-making body of the party. In our CWC, 25% members are below the age of 50 years.

Kamal Nath seems to have lost his fabled skills at doing realpolitik. Your MP government went away just like that without him trying to save it.

Wait for the MP results about Mr Kamal Nath’s realpolitik skills. We are winning the state with a tremendous majority. People of Madhya Pradesh will teach a befitting lesson to those who toppled a democratically elected government and were instrumental in stealing a democratic mandate.

Bhupesh Baghel no doubt represents a new leadership. But again factionalism bothered him.

Our Chhattisgarh government has some of the most path-breaking schemes for farmers. Mr. Baghel, who comes from the OBC community, has to be lauded for his commitment to the state and to the welfare programmes his government launched. The way he was hounded by the BJP-controlled agencies for a bogus case during elections will only strengthen us further in the state and the people will respond with the power of their vote.

Is it a real dilemma for the central leadership? Out of power, one gets an impression that Delhi is unable to exert itself forcefully upon the state leaders. Gehlot revolted against the Gandhis in 2022, Nath and Baghel seem to be doing the solo act; Revanth Reddy is pretty much his own man…

Your assumptions are false. Let me break your bubble and this fake narrative. The Congress party’s central leadership is being handled by our president Shri [Mallikarjun] Khargeji who is spearheading the party and our fight against the BJP.

Shri Rahul Gandhi is the ideological fountainhead of the party and our inspiration to fight this good fight without fear. He rattles the BJP and Mr Modi like no one else because he is completely fearless and corners the government on its failures to create jobs, for high prices. He champions the voice of the voiceless and is fighting for the backward castes and other marginalised communities to ensure social justice. Our regional leaders are strong and have been empowered by the central leadership to deliver on promises the Congress stands for and fight the BJP’s divisive ideology fiercely in their states.

You are in Telangana. Reports suggest that the Congress is a serious contender. How does the last mile look?

The tide has turned in Telangana. The Congress formed the state with some dreams. We aspired for prosperity, equal opportunities and welfare of people. But the state has been saddled with scams and all the wealth and opportunities have been amassed by one family.

The people realise it’s time for change and the BRS [Bharat Rashtra Samithi] government led by KCR [K Chandrashekar Rao] and his family will be voted out. The Congress has offered an alternative model of governance which puts people first and focuses on their development. There is a Congress wave sweeping across the state.

How significant would a Telangana victory be from the point of Congress recovering ground in the south after Karnataka?

Any victory is significant. The wins in Himachal and Karnataka set the virtuous cycle of winning in motion for us. We have delivered in states where we are in government and have resisted the misgovernance of the BJP [where we are not]. We are very confident of a very favourable verdict from all the five election-bound states.

What are the implications of these polls for the big battle of 2024? In 2018, the outcomes had no impact on the Lok Sabha polls that followed…

2024 is not 2019. A lot of water has flown under the bridge, much has changed. After two full terms in office with such a brute majority, the Modi government’s report card is full of failures.

The government has failed to rein in high prices, it has failed to create jobs, income inequality is wider than ever before, the rights of SC, STs, OBCs and marginalised communities have been undermined. They have spread hatred and created deep social divides. The Modi government has only worked to make [Gautam] Adani richer and has refused to act or probe the biggest scam in independent India.

People are seeking answers; SCs, STs, OBCs want justice and greater representation. People want jobs not ‘jumlas’, they want the country to stay united, they want love and not hate.

2024 will be an election between two different ideologies. In state after state, Mr Modi has asked for votes in his own name. He has repeatedly put himself on the ticket and yet people are rejecting him fair and square. Compare 2024 to 2019 at your own risk.


Courtesy: TOI / PTI