Playing the caste card, Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi on Tuesday targeted the Congress' first family, saying some people consider his politics "low-level" just because he was from a backward caste.
A day after Priyanka Gandhi Vadra accused Modi of insulting her late father Rajiv Gandhi and charged him with stooping to "low-level" politics, the BJP leader asserted on Twitter that his brand of politics would rid the country of "60 years of misrule".
In a series of tweets and later at a rally, Modi also tried to touch a chord with backward sections ahead of the last two phases of elections — in which voters will exercise their franchise in some key seats in caste-influenced Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Modi has rarely used the caste card in his high-voltage campaigns targeted at the Nehru-Gandhi family. He, however, has frequently referred to his humble background as a "chaiwallah" at election rallies, while attacking the "shehzada" (Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi).
Addressing a rally in Domariyaganj, Uttar Pradesh, the BJP's PM candidate said, "It is a fact that I was born in a backward caste but I can assure this country that my politics is not of low-level. I have a dream of one India, better India."
Modi's attack on Priyanka — Congress president Sonia Gandhi's daughter and Rahul's sister — came a day after he took the poll battle to Amethi, a traditional stronghold of the Gandhi family. Rahul is seeking his third term in Parliament from the constituency.
At a rally in the constituency, Modi had criticised former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who had represented the seat in the past. Soon after his speech, Priyanka had issued a statement, saying, "They have insulted my martyred father... People of Amethi will never forgive them for this act."
The war of words between Priyanka and Modi came close on the heels of a controversy over an interview of the BJP leader to Doordarshan. Priyanka did not take lightly the reports that Modi had said she was "like his daughter". Later, it turned out that Modi had said he would never take offence of anything she said as a daughter, who was campaigning hard for her mother Sonia.
Responding to Priyanka's Amethi statement, Modi said in Domariyaganj, "You can insult Modi as much as you like… you can hang him. But do not insult the lower caste...I was attacked and dubbed as a tea seller as if it I had committed a crime. Questions were raised as to how he (Modi) can run the country."
Campaigning for Jagdambika Pal, who had recently deserted the Congress to join the BJP, Modi added, "Is it a crime to be born in backward caste? Did I insult anyone... Such a dirty blame has been put on me."
Modi sought the intervention of the Election Commission over such attacks on him. "Can EC take action? I don't know. They have their limitations (Unki majboori unhe mubarak...)."
He also wooed the backward sections of the society, while turning the heat on the Congress.
"What is our (backward communities') crime? How dare they term us as lowly and insult us?"
On Twitter, Modi wrote, "Some people can't see the fact that the sacrifice and hard work of the people from the lower castes has helped the country reach great heights."
At a mega conclave of the BJP in January, Modi had attacked the Congress along the same lines, saying the ruling party was not ready to take on a "tea vendor" from "a backward caste" in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
(With PTI inputs)
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