Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Hemant Soren share the stage in Jharkhand (photo: PTI)
Poor Congress chief ministers. Not only do they have to stand side by side with the charismatic leader who defeated their party in the general election, but at public engagements the chants of ‘Modi, Modi’ keep reminding them just who is more popular.
Three chief ministers of states ruled by opposition parties have found to their discomfiture just what the people think of their governments. First it was Haryana’s Bhupinder Hooda ,who was booed by the crowd when the prime minister laid the foundation stone of a power plant last week.
A livid Hooda later called a press conference and accused the BJP of a conspiracy to orchestrate the booing.
Then it was the turn of Hemant Soren, the JMM chief minister of Jharkhand, whose state administration is supported by the Congress. The crowd booed Soren when Modi joined him at the inauguration of a development project in the state.
Shaken, Soren later declared that the heckling of opponents in the presence of the prime minister amounted to the "rape" of centre-state relations.
Next, Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan claimed he was heckled last week while sharing the dais with Modi at a function in Solapur. So he promptly decided to boycott the prime minister's programme in Nagpur where Modi was to perform the 'bhumi-pujan' of a Metro project.
The Congress has now called on all its chief ministers to avoid public engagements with Modi to prevent them facing the same ignominy. The opposition party points to the fact that the booing took place in three states that have elections scheduled this year.
But this is not ‘proof’ of some grand conspiracy by the BJP, rather that Modi has chosen to focus on inaugurating infrastructure projects in key states that will hold elections soon.
If people in the crowd heckle their leaders, the politicians should take it in their stride instead of blaming political rivals.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said the public had raised slogans against the chief ministers as they were "non-performing".
"They did not perform in their states. That's why their own public which elevated them as chief minister, today is really annoyed with them," Patra said.
Referring to the booing directed at Hooda, Patra said it would be absurd to say that a sizeable section of Haryana’s population had suddenly become BJP workers.
Most media commentators agree that the Congress has been hyper-sensitive on the issue. According to the Hindustan Times, “If Mr Hooda is so cut up with what has happened, he could have ordered an inquiry into what had happened, and had the culprits punished. Instead the Congress CMs have dragged the prime minister into the controversy, which is not in good taste.”
It is also a violation of protocol if a chief minister boycotts a function by the prime minister in his state. By encouraging this across the states that it rules, the Congress is creating an unnecessary stand-off in the Centre-states relationship that is both unseemly and “churlish”.