Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi kept up his verbal sparring with Priyanka Gandhi on Sunday. Addressing an election rally in Ambedkar Nagar, about 35 km from the town that was the epicentre of the BJP’s Ram Janmabhoomi movement a decade-and-a-half ago, he made no mention at all of the Ram temple his party had promised to build, but instead responded sharply to Priyanka’s remarks.
Reacting to an earlier comment of Modi’s on the Uttar Pradesh campaign trail calling the Congress, a budhiya (old woman), Priyanka, campaigning in Amethi, told reporters: ‘Do I look old to you?’ Modi pointed out that he had been referring to the party, and not any individual. “But some people don’t want to make any distinction between the party and the family,” he said.
“If my friends in the Congress do not like my description, I shall henceforth stop calling the party a budhiya and call it a guriya (doll) instead,” he said.
The remaining part of Modi’s 20 minute speech was entirely devoted to development related matters, without a word about Hindutva.
He repeated the pattern at Faizabad, 10 km from the temple town, where once again he harped the backwardness of the state, and chided the Mayawati government for not caring enough. But he did briefly touch upon the controversy over demolishing the Ram Setu across the Palk Straits between India and Sri Lanka.
Accusing all parties other than his own of indulging in vote bank politics, he urged his listeners to vote them out. In an obvious reference to the new front formed by Mulayam Singh Yadav with Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan in Bihar, he said: “As if UP didn’t have enough problems of its own, some leaders are importing fresh ones from Bihar.”
Though he got laughs from his audience, its size remained modest at both meetings. There was no palpable excitement over Modi’s visit amongst Ayodhya residents. “No, we have nothing against the BJP candidate,” said Charandas Singh, a local trader. “It’s just that we are not interested.”