Detractors smell political one-upmanship in PM’s ‘lights off-lamps on’ event

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    New Delhi/Hyderabad, April 5 (IANS) Criticism of the Prime Minister’s various initiatives is not something unusual from his rivals and detractors. But the Prime Minister’s call for a ‘lights out- lamps on’ show of defiance on Sunday night is raising hackles on the other side of the political divide. Rivals like former Karnatak Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy have alleged that the event is a backdoor tribute to the BJP and its origins in the erstwhile Jan Sangh.

    On April 2, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made yet another of his cryptic announcements — this time about a video message that he would release at 9 am on April 3. Caught up in the throes of an unfolding COVID-19 crisis, the nation, as usual, did not fail him and tuned in to their television sets on the dot.
    The Prime Minister’s message, coming on the tenth day of the 21-day national lockdown, was short, crisp and to the point. Complimenting his countrymen for their support and discipline in implementing the lockdown, the Prime Minister called for a demonstrative expression of national unity and will in the fight against the coronavirus.
    “To defeat the darkness of despair and light our lives with hope, let us switch off all lights for nine minutes at 9 p.m. on Sunday (April 5) and illuminate our surroundings with candles, diyas, torch or mobile flashlights. Let us maintain social distancing during this,” Prime Minister Modi urged the people in his widely televised video address to the nation on Friday morning.
    The reactions from different quarters, to the Prime Minister’s latest call for a demonstration of national resolve to fight Corona, came on predictable lines.
    The Congress camp led by Rahul Gandhi criticised the move with statements such as “flashing lights in the dark will not tackle coronavirus”. Others like Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee refused to toe the Prime Minister’s line and there have been veiled threats from the TMC camp that switched off lights would help identify BJP supporters in TMC land.
    Down South, the reactions have been mixed. The Telugu states’ chief ministers have welcomed the move and lent their support to it. While the ruling BJP in Karnataka is all set to make the April 5 night event a success, former Karnataka chief minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Kumaraswamy literally threw a spanner in the works with his early morning tweet on Sunday.
    “Has the PM slyly asked the nation to observe a candle light vigil on the eve of foundation day of BJP? April 6 being its foundation day, what else can explain the choice of date & time for this event? I challenge the PM to offer a credible scientific and rational explanation.” Kumaraswamy went on to castigate the Prime Minister for resorting to such tasks instead of focusing on measures to defeat coronavirus.
    However, the BJP has been quick to shoot down the allegations as political petty-mindedness. Party’s spokesperson Zafar Islam shot down the insiniuation as preposterous. “This appeal should not be seen from the prism of politics. The only idea behind the appeal to light diyas is to unite the country and honour those warriors who are saving is from coronavirus. Sad that even such an issue is being politicised.”
    The Prime Minister’s detractors point out that the BJP was founded on April 6 in 1980 and go on to state that the symbol of the party’s predecessor, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, had a ‘diya’ or earthen lamp as its symbol.
    But Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, national vice president of the BJP termed the date as mere coincidence. ” It is painful to come across such petty mindedness. Exploiting a purely coincidence that Monday is April 6…to suggest the call given by PM tonight is to celebrate BJP’s foundation day is reprehensible. This has only one agenda: to unite India.”
    Ever since the coronavirus crisis began brewing a storm in India, the Prime Minister has been at the forefront of the fight — through a series of initiatives aimed at building up national solidarity. He had called for a ‘Janata Curfew’ on March 22 and on the same day, he had urged Indians to come out of their homes and applaud the country’s health sector workers for their contributions to the fight against COVID19.
    The nation had responded overwhelmingly to both the calls from Modi.
    Meanwhile, people could be seen preparing for the event by purchasing earthern lamps in places such as Hyderabad and elsewhere. Vijayalakshmi, a senior citizen in Hyderabad said, I will switch off the lights in my home at 9 pm and all 5 members in my family will light diyas to support the Prime Minister’s call.”