Barbs drowned poll promises being made on Sunday as campaigning peaked with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi ramping up the battle for Uttarakhand, which is heading to become a swing state for the two parties.
The BJP is counting on Modi’s persona to upstage the ruling Congress in the hill state, which votes for a new government on February 15. The Congress is banking on chief minister Harish Rawat -- the “son of the soil” who last year survived an attempt by party rebels and the rival BJP to dethrone him.
But there is no sweeping issue to sway voters for the two arch-rivals, who have taken turns to rule the state after it was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000. As the stakes are high for all players involved, the shouting matches are increasingly shrill.
“The time for those who looted the country for 70 years has come to an end. I promise that those who looted the country will have to pay back now. I will not rest and won’t let the looters rest either,” Modi said in Pithoragarh, at one of the two rallies he addressed on the penultimate day of campaigning.
He accused the Congress of corruption and asked the people to vote out the “tainted” government for, what he called, turning the “Devbhoomi” into a “Lootbhoomi” by failing to tap the Himalayan state’s potential. Uttarakhand is also called Devbhoomi, or abode of gods, as the state is dotted with Hindu pilgrimage sites.
He got a quick response from Gandhi, who has been sparring with Modi ever since he rode to power two years ago vowing to stamp out corruption.
“Modiji has no right to talk about corruption. All scam-tainted leaders who were earlier with us are now with the BJP … We had thrown out trash from Uttarakhand, but he lifted it and put it in his party,” Gandhi said, referring to Congress deserters who have joined the BJP ahead of the polls.
The BJP has recorded murmurs of dissent in its ranks after it gave tickets to Congress turncoats. About 14 dissidents of the ruling Congress, including 12 legislators, have crossed sides.
Congress leader Gandhi was at the foothills in Haridwar, where he held rallies and a 75km road show, when Modi was campaigning in the hill towns of Srinagar, the epicentre of Garhwal politics, and Pithoragarh in Kumaon on Sunday.
The Prime Minister has spent three days in the state while BJP president Amit Shah attended more than six rallies.
Gandhi and chief minister Rawat too had hit the campaign trail hard. The Congress is hoping to gain in the Terai belt of Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar, which together have 20 seats.
Gandhi’s road show was significant as the BJP has fielded several Congress turncoats in this region, while Haridwar (rural) is one of the two seats being contested by chief minister Rawat.
Modi too had addressed rallies in Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar.
The Prime Minister pledged to promote the state’s tourism, herbal wealth and yoga, and open job opportunities to stop the exodus of people from villages. Congress leaders too offered several sops. But the barbs exchanged by the two parties overshadowed the promises they made, leaving voters confused.
The Congress won the previous elections, bagging 32 seats in the 70-member assembly. The BJP was just one seat short.