Congress President Sonia Gandhi arrived in Rajkot, Gujarat on Wednesday to address a rally and kick off party poll campaign in the state. The BJP is pitted against a resurgent Congress and Keshubhai Patel’s political outfit in the state.
Gandhi visited Ramkrishna Ashram and 'Gandhi-Smruti', the place where Mahatma Gandhiji stayed during his school days, in Rajkot.
Elaborate security arrangements have been put in place in the city, where Gandhi is starting her party's election campaign.
This, according to the state leaders, is the first time since 2002 when Gandhi will address a rally in Gujarat ahead of the announcement of poll schedule.
The farmers' rally at Rajkot would also be Gandhi's first public meeting after the Congress-led UPA government decided to allow FDI in retail, hiked diesel prices and put a cap on subsidised LPG cylinders.
Congress managers have carefully chosen Rajkot — the fourth largest city in Gujarat — as the venue because it is part of Saurashtra, which is considered a BJP stronghold. The Congress, however, won four of the seven Lok Sabha seats from the region in 2009 polls. It also accounts for 48 assembly seats.
The party seeks to cash in on the farmers anger — they have suffered huge crop losses due to drought in the region — against the Modi government and remind them that it was UPA which announced a debt waiver of Rs. 70,000 crore for them in 2008.
"Our workers are excited about the rally…We expect a huge turnout," Gujarat party chief Arjun Modhwadia said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi attacked Gandhi again, asking the central government to disclose the expenses made on her foreign trips since 2004, the year the UPA came to power.
With the Gujarat election dates likely to be announced today, this is seen by his opposition as Modi’s attempt to turn the campaign into a personality battle and gloss over local issues.
Addressing a youth convention organised by the state employment department, Modi said: “I am not asking the Congress president to provide the details, but I am asking the prime minister and the UPA government to provide them because it’s public money.”
Stating he had received threats from the Congress for raising the issue, he said, “I am being threatened…if I seek expenditure account details, there will be serious allegations against me. They have already put the CBI behind me.” His words evoked strong protest from the Congress.
Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh hit back at Modi, saying he (Modi) had been trained well by the RSS in “false propaganda”, and also compared him with German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels of the 1930s and 1940s. “Sangh training to its cadre — tell a lie, tell it loudly and repeat it more often. Doesn’t it remind you of Hitler’s Goebbels?” Singh wrote on Twitter.
“Now Narendra Modi should tell in which newspaper he read and which news agency gave him this information. There is nothing to hide regarding Soniaji’s health and foreign trips,” Singh added.
The local Congress leadership has so far mostly focused its energies on local issues, highlighting the failures of the Modi government.
“Such deplorable remarks only show he cannot fight polls on the local issues,” said Gujarat leader of opposition Shaktisinh Gohil.
(With PTI and HT inputs)