From Ram Mandir to note ban, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first television interview in the election year touched upon all the elements of what might constitute the Bharatiya Janata Party's poll pitch for upcoming general elections. However, the Opposition dismissed the interview as "fixed and full of rhetoric." Allies on the other hand expressed gave mixed reactions to Modi's comments on bringing an ordinance for construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya's disputed site.
When Modi was asked about the demand by Hindutva groups for an ordinance for a Ram temple in Ayodhya, he had responded saying, "Let the judicial process take its own course... After the judicial process is over, whatever be our responsibility as government, we are ready to make all efforts."
While JD(U) welcomed this comment, the Shiv Sena flayed the BJP on this statement. BJP's parent organisation RSS, however, subtly reminded the party that it must fulfill its electoral promises within the current tenure.
"The Supreme Court has said (hearing on the) Ram Mandir is not an urgent matter. Modi also did not say anything different. I congratulate him for making his position clear on the matter.
"...(The prime minister says) Will not bring an ordinance for the Ram temple. The constitutional meaning of this is that Lord Ram is not bigger than the law," Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said.
The RSS said people expect the Modi government to fulfil its promise of building the Ram temple within its tenure as the BJP was elected to power in 2014 for committing to all possible efforts to do so.
"Under the leadership of Modi, the BJP in its 2014 election manifesto had promised to make all possible efforts within the ambit of the Constitution to build the Ram temple. People of India gave the BJP a majority, trusting their promise," the RSS tweeted. People of India expect the government to fulfil the promise within its tenure, it added. However, RSS also described Modi's comments as a "positive step" towards the temple construction. The government's term will end in May.
The >JD(U), meanwhile, welcomed the prime minister's statement. "We welcome the prime minister's comments. It is a victory of our party's ideology," JD(U) spokesperson KC Tyagi said.
Modi's comments come in the backdrop of BJP's Bihar allies reminding it that construction of a Ram temple might be its political promise but was not on NDA's agenda.
The >Congress, meanwhile, slammed the prime minister's interview adding that it was mere propaganda and jumla, which is bereft of ground realities.
"Modi did not spare our people of his penchant for false promises, hollow claims and propaganda even on the New Year day. The habitual peddler of untruths and lies has signalled a nasty narrative for the 2019 election campaign. People cannot be fooled through a fixed interview. Have the courage to face us in Parliament or address a press conference. Having betrayed the people, do not beg Lord Ram to save you. He did not ask you to lie in the first place," Congress leader Anand Sharma said.
Party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said that the prime minister again resorted to "lies blatantly" on the issue of Rafale. "Prime Minister Modi said there is no charge, but the only charges made are against him....the charge Modi ji, is only against you of corruption and crony capitalism and that is why you are running away from a JPC," he said, daring him for holding a probe on the issue.
The Congress also came out with its own version of 10 follow up questions on the big poll promises Modi made in 2014, including depositing 15 lakh in every bank account, bringing back 80 lakh crore black money, 2 crore jobs per year, cost and 50 percent profit for farmers, GST, demonetisation "scam", national security, corruption and "scams" such as Rafale, and cleaning of Ganga.
Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, meanwhile, hit back at Modi by saying BJP should stop lecturing it on "democratic rigts" as BJP itself has destroyed democracy and institutions in the country.
The party's comment came in the backdrop of the Prime Minister's Office tweet, quoting Modi from the interview: "What has happened in West Bengal. A political party (the BJP) is being denied a basic democratic right. Our workers are brutally killed in West Bengal, Kerala, Karnataka. Politics of violence has to end. All parties have to reaffirm their commitment to peaceful politics."
TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee took a dig at BJP"s defeat in three Hindi heartland states by saying that the BJP has got a taste of "democracy" in last few elections. "The BJP should not lecture us on democracy and democratic rights. As BJP itself has destroyed democracy and institutions in this country. The BJP itself don't have any respect for democracy or constitution," Chatterjee said.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) general secretary Sitaram Yechury on Tuesday said the assurances given by the BJP on Ram temple had very little credibility. Yechury said, "We heard the BJP CM in 1992 give false assurances on protecting the Babri Masjid. After the demolition, it was claimed as a success by them. These assurances by the BJP have very little credibility."
"After having destroyed the economy and ruined people's livelihoods, sharpening communal polarisation is the BJP's only plan. This will not be allowed to succeed," he added.
The BJP, however, felt that the prime minister demolished the Opposition's 'motivated agenda.' Hitting back at the Congress, BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said it is not surprising that it was "desperately working overtime" to negate the positive message of the prime minister's comments.
In his reaction to Modi's interview, Congress chief spokesperson Surjewala had termed it as, "bereft of ground reality, 'Jumlas' (rhetoric) galore, Modiji's interview looks like a parody".
In his counter-offensive, Kohli said, "It is a comprehensive, detailed and candid interview in which the PM has spoken on a wide range of issues that have been in the media space for some time. This interview completely demolishes the motivated agenda of opposition parties and vested interests that seek to malign the sterling performance of his government."
Echoing similar sentiments, another BJP spokesperson, Shahnawaz Hussain, said,"All the false narratives that the opposition was trying to build for many months were demolished by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in just one interview. That's the power of truth and commitment."
In an interview broadcast by various television channels, Modi talked about a host of issues including the surgical strikes, the Ram temple's construction and personal attacks on him by the Congress.
Modi also attacked the Congress leadership of politicising and delaying the legal process in clearance of Ram temple construction.
With inputs from agencies