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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

PM Modi, Rahul Gandhi launch rally blitz as Gujarat election campaign heats up

Narendra Modi attacked the Congress for its “dynastic politics” and neglect of the state while Rahul Gandhi stepped up the offensive against the PM over a multi-million dollar fighter jets deal.

assembly-elections Updated: Nov 29, 2017 23:18 IST
HT Correpondents
HT Correpondents
Hindustan Times, Prachi/Morbi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to the crowd at an election campaign rally in Morbi on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to the crowd at an election campaign rally in Morbi on Wednesday. (PTI Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi unleashed a campaign blitz across Gujarat on Wednesday, attacking the Congress for everything from its “dynastic politics” and neglect of the state to its alleged opposition to an ancient Shiva temple repeatedly destroyed by Muslim invaders.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi too held several meetings, stepping up the offensive against Modi over a multi-million dollar fighter jets deal and the ruling BJP’s treatment of the influential Patidar community.

Amid their high-decibel face-off, a controversy erupted over whether Gandhi had registered as a non-Hindu visitor to the Somnath temple earlier in the day. The party denied he had, saying images circulating on social media purportedly showing an entry by him were a fake.

The contest in Gujarat, Modi’s home state where the BJP has been in power for 22 years, will be keenly watched for signs of voter reaction to some of his radical economic policies that the opposition Congress is trying to leverage to regain political ground.

At his first two pit stops, Modi attacked two Congress-era Prime Ministers — Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi — for what he said was neglecting and looking down on Gujarat.

In Morbi in Saurashtra, a stronghold of the Patidar community, the BJP is trying to mollify their demand for quotas in jobs and education, Modi took a dig at the Congress’ “dynastic and elitist politics”.

He cited a visit to the region by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to appeal to Gujarati pride.

“When Indira Ben came to Morbi, I remember there was a photo of her in the Chitralekha Magazine with a hanky over her nose due to the foul smells,” he said. “But for Jan Sangh/RSS, the streets of Morbi are fragrant. It’s the fragrance of humanity,” he said, referring to the BJP’s ideological parents.

He also attacked the Congress’ idea of development, saying for the party it meant doling out hand pumps while the BJP had brought piped water from the Narmada river.

Next up at Prachi, close to the Somnath temple, he criticised Nehru for allegedly trying to stop its reconstruction.

Historians differ over the year of the temple’s construction but agree it was repeatedly desecrated by invaders from central Asia and rebuilt every time, the latest being in 1951 by India’s first deputy prime minister and home minister Sardar Patel.

“If there was no Sardar Patel, the temple in Somnath would never have been possible. Today some people are remembering Somanth, I have to ask them — Have you forgotten your history?” Modi said, in a veiled reference to Gandhi’s visit to the temple during the day. “Your family members — our first PM — was not happy with the idea of a temple being built there.”

At the other rallies, he slammed the Congress as a burden on the nation, saying the party had neither neta (leaders) nor niti (principles) and that his remaining in power was “bad news for those who have looted the nation for 70 long years”.

For his part, Gandhi spoke at several corner meetings where he reached out to the Patidar community and attacked Modi over his “silence” on the Rafale fighter jet deal. He visited the Somnath temple and later spoke at Visavadar in Junagadh. Referring to the 2015 stir for quotas in education and jobs in which 14 Patidars were killed in police firing, Gandhi said if anyone raised his voice, he either got beaten up or had to face bullets in Gujarat.

Visavdar is a Patidar-dominated constituency in politically crucial Saurashtra region. Referring to the Rafale deal, he said: “I asked Modiji three questions (on the Rafale deal). First, is there a difference in the cost of the planes in the first and the second contract (signed with a French firm), please give the reply in yes or no.”

“Why was the contract given to a private industrialist friend instead of Hindustan Aeronautics limited? And did you seek the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security for the deal?”

(With agency inputs)