Addressing his first rally in electorally-significant Uttar Pradesh after being declared the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi went back to his humble roots on Saturday to differentiate himself from the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi.
“Congress leaders say poverty is a state of mind,” the Gujarat CM said. “How will those born with a silver spoon understand poverty? They go with cameras to huts to get photographed. I was born in poverty. I know what poverty is, unlike the shahzada (prince). When someone laughs at poverty, I feel the pain I experienced in childhood.”
The dig came days after Gandhi said in Gwalior that development to him meant respect for the poor rather than just building infrastructure.
It was Modi’s first public meeting in Uttar Pradesh after being named as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. The BJP is aiming to win at least 40 seats in the 2014 general elections in the country’s most populous state which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
Modi, however, did not refer to the temple issue even once despite the fact that only on Friday several BJP leaders were arrested in Ayodhya while trying to observe the VHP-organised ‘sankalp divas’ for the construction of a Ram temple.
Instead, he played his humble roots to the hilt to score a point over Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
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“The Congress isn’t talking about its own government but asking what has been done in Gujarat. I have passed the test in 2012. It is for you to face the people now.”
He also asked the people of the state to throw out the “troika” – Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) –and “bury” vote bank politics forever.
“Over 5,000 innocents were killed in UP in one year. Yet the UP government is indulging in vote bank politics. Terror accused are being freed from jails. Should not the law take its own course? Should we not punish leaders doing such politics and make them fear the public?” Modi asked.
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The Gujarat CM also reached out to the BSP’s traditional vote base, the scheduled castes, by saying Dalits had a better life in Gujarat than in UP.
Gujarat CM and BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addresses an election campaign rally in Kanpur. (PTI Photo)
“The Congress isn’t talking about its own government but asking what’s been done in Gujarat. I passed the test in 2012. It is for you to face the people now,” Modi went on, devoting a good part of his 46-minute speech to targeting the Congress.
Taking aim at the UPA’s food security and land acquisition laws, termed game-changers by the Congress ahead of Elections 2014, he said, “To every question, they say we’ve made a law. What then did the framers of the Constitution do?”
And on the scams dogging the Centre, Modi said it wasn’t just the coal files that were lost but the government too.
The rally also saw former UP CM Kalyan Singh take the stage with a hard Hindutva line.
“In UP, riots have taken place. In Gujarat, there has been no riot for years. People talk about 2002, which Modi controlled with great effort. But they don’t talk about the burning of 59 Hindus that sparked the riot.”
Rajnath Singh also alluded to the UP riots, saying the SP should now be called DP or Danga (riot) Party.
“Kriya hogi toh pratikriya bhi hogi. Kriya nahin hoti toh pratikriya nahin hoti (If there will be action, there will be reaction. Had there been no action, there would have been no reaction).”
On the Modi-Gandhi rivalry, Kalyan Singh said, “Modi is that wrestler who floored the Congress three times in Gujarat. Rahul doesn’t even know how to tie a langot.”
Gujarat CM and BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi greets public during his election campaign rally in Kanpur. (PTI Photo)
The tone for Modi’s projection as an achiever from a humble background was set before he spoke at about 4 pm. Party chief Rajnath Singh introduced him to a cheering crowd as a leader from a poor, most backward caste background: “We decided that the nation should be governed by a man from an ‘atyant pichhada’ (extremely backward), poor family of a tea seller.”
This was the first overt reference to Modi’s OBC status from a top BJP leader, a reference that makes political sense in UP, where caste counts in politics.
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The Congress rebuttal came swiftly with spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury saying, “A man who doesn’t have ties with his own family can’t understand the woes of other families. He came after maalish polish (massage and make up).”
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Ridiculing Modi's charge that Congress was playing "divisive" politics, Chowdhary told reporters ion Delhi pointed towards post-Godhra riots.
"Nobody feels safe in Gujarat. That is why tourists do not go there. He does not get a visa. If you want to know what is the safety in Gujarat ask about it from people from Godhara, family members of Ishrat Jahan."
Rejecting Modi's attack on Congress on the issue of poverty, she claimed that there is widespread malnutrition among children in his state.
"What he is trying to tell us about hunger. How many children in Gujarat are victims of malnutrition. He should look back into his courtyard taking time off from his focus on the chair of the Prime Minister," she said.
'Modi's rally a farce'
The Samajwadi Party (SP) has called Modi’s rally’ in Kanpur a farce that was replete with sponsored crowds instead of the general public.
The SP also called Modi the BJP’s second PM-in-waiting (The obvious reference was to Advani’s PM dream).
"It seems that the RSS, the VHP and the BJP are transporting sponsored crowds for Modi’s rallies. The state’s farmers, labourers, poor and common people were absent from the rally,” said Rajendra Chowdhary, state spokesperson for the Samajwadi Party.
“If only the UP rallies of Modi cost an estimated Rs 400 crore, then the total cost of his rallies would exceed thousands of crores. Only the big corporate houses, who have ‘adopted’ Modi, have the capacity to spend such money. This is a corporate conspiracy to control politics and government,” said Chowdhary.
Chowdhary said the RSS campaign to see Modi as the PM was not getting any public support.
(With inputs from agencies)
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