LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh — After one week of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) building up the “biggest” political rally ever to be held in Lucknow, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the Ramabai Ambedkar grounds on Monday turned out to be a huge anti-climax, with no major announcements.
While the BJP had managed to mobilize a huge crowd for its first political event in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, Modi’s one-hour speech was underwhelming. The prime minister lashed out at his political rivals as corrupt and fractious, extolled the virtues of demonetisation, and claimed that only the BJP could bring development to U.P.
In a jibe aimed at his political rivals, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, Modi said that while one was caught up in saving his family, the other was trying to save money. “Only BJP wants to save U.P.,” he said.
The BJP spent over a month preparing for the mammoth Lucknow rally — labelled the Maha Parivartan rally — ahead of Assembly elections in U.P. The massive Ramabai Ambedkar ground was packed to capacity today, with the BJP claiming that Modi broke Mayawati’s record of drawing the largest crowd. The ground can accommodate at least five lakh people at a time.
Even though large numbers in the crowd comprised of BJP workers from its 140,000 booth committees spread across the state, the party had managed to mobilize a gathering to reckon with. The BJP also had a spot of luck with the weather. In an otherwise cold spell in the state capital, the temperature today afternoon was described by many as “just right.” And just a few minutes before Modi was scheduled to speak, the sun broke through the clouds.
With people perched on the boundary wall of the huge complex built by Mayawati when she was the chief minister of U.P., Modi remarked that he had never addressed such a large gathering in his political career. “After seeing today’s rally, political analysts will no longer have to guess which party is going to come to power in the U.P. polls,” Modi said to the cheering crowd.
Modi’s speech today coincided with the raging feud between Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his father, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. The feud is widely being viewed as a blow to SP’s prospects in the coming elections even as Akhilesh has emerged as the party’s strongman.
In light of the lakhs of people that the BJP had brought to Lucknow, and this being the first major political event of the year ahead of the elections, Modi’s speech failed to meet expectations. In light of the Yadav family feud, one would have expected Modi to strike while the iron is hot.
Holding the BJP flag in one hand, Om Prakash, a farmer from Shahjahanpur, sounded disappointed. “He did not say anything specific,” Prakash said. “We wanted to hear him to announce relief to farmers, waive off loans.”
Anil Kumar Khushwaha, a farmer from Kanpur, also expressed disappointment. “I’m a BJP supporter and I will vote for Modi ji.” he said. “But he did not say anything new in the speech. But we are happy to see him.”
Speaking about demonetisation, Modi rhetorically asked the crowd if they wanted to get rid of black money and corruption. “They say remove Modi,” he intoned. “I say remove black money. They say remove Modi, I say remove corruption.”
Modi also said that while people were talking about the BJP ending its 14-year exile from power in UP, what would truly end if the BJP were to be voted into power was “14-year exile of development.”