Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday launched a scathing attack on Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi, saying even a chaiwallah (tea seller) deserved respect but someone who "made a fool of people" was not worthy of being revered.
Addressing a rally in south Gujarat's Bardoli, Gandhi accused Modi of running a "government of rich people", neglecting the poor and making false claims about the state's development.
When a section of the audience started calling Modi, the Gujarat chief minister, a "chaiwallah", he intervened and said "every tea seller, every auto-rickshaw driver, every farmer" deserved respect.
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"But, one who tricks people does not deserve respect," he added, without naming the BJP's PM nominee.
The remark comes close on the heels of Gandhi reportedly snubbing party leader Mani Shankar Aiyar for launching a personal attack on Modi over the latter's humble past as a tea seller.
On Modi's home turf, the Congress vice-president invoked Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, who had led a farmers' agitation against the British rule from Bardoli, and said "some leaders here don't know" their history and legacy.
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"Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel shaped the Congress' ideology. Now, they (the BJP) want to wipe out that same ideology from the country."
"On the other hand, they (the BJP) want to build statues," he said, referring to the state government's ambitious plan to build a 597-foot-long statue of Patel in the Narmada River.
Gandhi also came down heavily on the BJP's parent body, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), blaming its "ideology" for the death of Mahatma Gandhi. He read out Patel's views on the RSS when he had banned the outfit.
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Shortly after Gandhi's speech, Modi justified building Patel's statue at a rally in Assam, saying he was a "national leader".
Addressing the Bardoli rally in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Gandhi highlighted the central government's achievements, laying stress on the rural job scheme and the food security legislation.
With exit polls predicting the Congress' vote share shrinking in the state, Gandhi countered Modi's claim of a shining Gujarat, pointing out that the voice of the poor was not heard in the state.
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"Here, only 5-6 people run the government and one person takes credit for everything. As many as 13,000 government schools have been shut down and 55,000 small and medium-scale businesses have stopped operations. I ask why the Gujarat government works only for the privileged?"
Gandhi added the people of Gujarat, and not any individual, should get the credit for whatever development the state had seen.
Turning the heat on Modi over corruption, he blamed the BJP leader for delaying the Lokayukta's appointment in Gujarat for nine years.
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