New Delhi: The humble donkey never had it so good. It found redemption finally from its popular caricature as a dimwitted animal on 20 February in Uttar Pradesh, smack in the middle of a bitter political face-off between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.

Not only have the elephants in Lucknow’s Ambedkar Memorial Park found competition in the donkeys (wild asses, actually) of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh’s state animal, the barasingha, is also worried about losing its title. Ironically, it is their own CM who has triggered a reordering of the animal kingdom pecking order.

Addressing an election rally in Rae Bareli on 20 February, Akhilesh Yadav, said: “There’s an ad on TV which shows donkeys. I appeal to the century’s biggest star to stop endorsing the donkeys of Gujarat. What will happen if the donkeys also start getting advertised?" He was referring to a Gujarat Tourism advertisement featuring Amitabh Bachchan where the actor is seen promoting the wild ass sanctuary located in the state’s Little Rann of Kutch.

The prime minister did not miss a beat in rallying for the animal, which is Gujarat’s pride—given that it is the last of its gene pool and the state’s efforts to prevent it from going extinct. “A donkey works for its master even if it is ill, hungry or tired and stops only after it has completed the given work. Similarly, the 125 crore people of India are my masters and I will work tirelessly for them. I take inspiration from donkeys and I do so with full pride," Modi said while addressing an election rally in Bahraich on Thursday.

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Further fuelling the donkey’s new found self-esteem, Modi went on to say, “I can understand if you attack Modi and BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), but I am amused that you have attacked donkeys. Are you afraid of donkeys, that too those that are thousands of kilometres away? You might hate the donkeys of Gujarat but it was that very state which gave birth to Dayanand Saraswati and Mahatma Gandhi, and Lord Krishna chose to stay there."

Analysts haven’t missed the politics behind this play of words between two rival politicians and its impact on the ongoing election. “These are exactly the kind of words which have serious ramifications on voter turnout. In a closely fought election, like the one UP is currently witnessing, such statements help voters become more decisive," said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.

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