Into his second day of campaigning for the October 15 elections in Maharashtra, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that he would not criticise former ally Shiv Sena out of respect for its late leader, Bal Thackeray.
"Political pundits are saying why is Modi not criticising Shiv Sena in his speeches (during poll campaign). This is the first election in absence of late Bal Thackeray, for whom I have great respect. I have decided not to utter a single word against Shiv Sena. This is my tribute to Balasaheb Thackeray.
"There are some things which are above politics...There are feelings. Not everything should be linked to politics," the 64-year-old BJP leader said addressing a poll rally at Tasgaon in Sangli district of western Maharashtra.
The soft approach set off talk about the possibility of the BJP and Sena coming together after the polls, in case neither was able to form the government on its own. Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari had told HT last week the BJP may have a post-poll alliance with the Sena in such circumstances.
But Modi asked the media not to speculate. Pointing out that certain things were beyond politics, he told a rally in Tasgaon in Sangli district, “These are the first assembly elections to be held without Balasaheb... I have great respect for him.”
He also appealed to voters to give the BJP a clear majority, saying “alliances did you no good... No party takes responsibility in alliances. The BJP will take responsibility if you vote it to power”.
Modi, who began his speech in Marathi, launched a scathing on Pawar for his comments about Shivaji "plundering" the treasury of Surat.
"Pawar's statement has hurt me deeply. You don't have knowledge of history. Gujarat was part of Maharashtra prior to its formation in 1960. We have considered Maharashtra as big brother," he said.
"I want to ask Pawar: you speak of Shivaji. It was the Vajpayee government which named Mumbai airport after Shivaji. You were CM but did not think of it. Even Victoria Terminus was named Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus by Vajpayee government," the PM said. "There is no chance of you (Pawar) getting Shivaji's qualities in your character. But as agriculture minister, had you implemented Shivaji's water management techniques, farmers of Maharashtra would not have committed suicide."
Modi added, "I am amazed. Pawar was the Union agriculture minister. But in his Maharashtra, around 3,700 farmers commit suicide every year. It does not befit Pawar to talk of Shivaji. The statue of Shivaji in Surat is much bigger than the one in your Baramati (Pawar's constituency in western Maharashtra).”
“Stop challenging our Shiv bhakti,” he said.
At a recent poll rally, Pawar had attacked the BJP, saying that the people who had termed Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj a 'looter' were invoking the warrior king to seek votes.
"They never even celebrated Shiv Jayanti and suddenly they have realised the importance of Shivaji Maharaj. All this is for votes only. BJP is well aware that it would not be able to reach out to the masses using its so-called icons and that's why is using Shivaji Maharaj's name and seeking people's blessings," Pawar had said.
Attacking the Congress and the NCP, Modi said both were of the same mould as far as corruption was concerned. "These are the people who robbed Kargil widows of their homes and jobs from youth. They have destroyed Maharashtra," he said. "Do you want to get Maharashtra out of the morass of corruption? I am willing to take responsibility, but elect a government with full majority."
He said had had the Congress-led UPA government completed work on Narmada project, Maharashtra would have got free electricity worth Rs 400 crore per year. "Why are sugar mills in Maharashtra closed?" he asked. "The Amul success story of Gujarat is now globally famous but you made sugar mills hub of politics," he said.
Modi began his speech by hailing Chhatrapati Shivaji and paid tributes to Ganesh and Piroba deities. "Sangli, sarvat changli (Sangli is the best of all)," he said. "I am a kaamdar (worker) among all these amdars and khasdars (MLAs and MPs)," Modi said.
"India is shining in the US not because of Modi, but because of the 125 crore people. This is the power of full majority," he said.
Modi said he had asked officials to check how much percentage of natural fruit could be put in soft drinks. "This will ensure that fruits produced by farmers don't rot. I am going ahead with the 'Make In India' mantra so that youth get jobs.”
Modi concluded his speech with an appeal to the crowd to leave the rally venue only after making sure that the ground was free of litter. He also spoke of the Swachh Bharat campaign aimed at creating a clean India.