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PM Modi, Rahul Gandhi trade barbs 3 days before polling in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar

At his campaign rally in Jagdalpur, Modi hit out at the Congress for being soft on urban Naxals, a term coined for left-wing intellectuals who sympathise with Maoists.

chattisgarh elections Updated: Nov 09, 2018 23:33 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Raipur
Chhattisgarh,Modi rally,Rahul Gandhi Rally
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an election rally at Jagdalpur, in Bastar district, Friday, Nov 9, 2018. (PTI File Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi squared off in Chhatttisgarh on Friday, three days ahead of the first round of polling in the state’s Bastar region, a Maoist hotbed, as they exchanged bitter political rhetoric over so-called “urban Naxals” and what each had done for the benefit of the state’s dominant tribespeople.

At his campaign rally in Jagdalpur, Modi hit out at the Congress for being soft on urban Naxals, a term coined for left-wing intellectuals who sympathise with Maoists. He accused the Congress of describing Maoists as “revolutionary” and of ruining the lives of the tribespeople of Chhattisgarh.

“You people must have seen the urban Naxals, seated in air-conditioned rooms in cities, who look good, are in good company and enjoy status. Their children study abroad,” he said at the rally in the town located in Bastar. “If the government acts against them, then you (Congress) try to save them.”

In a crackdown on August 28, the Maharashtra police arrested poet Varavara Rao, activists Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira, trade unionist and lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj and civil liberties activist Gautam Navlakha for their suspected links with Maoists.

Following the arrests, Congress chief Gandhi accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government of jailing activists.

The Congress is trying to end 15 years of BJP rule in Chhattishgarh, where elections to the 90-member assembly will be held in two phases — on November 12 and November 20. The first phase will see polling in 18 seats in eight Maoist-affected districts. The ruling BJP lost 12 of the 18 seats in the 2013 polls. The remaining 72 constituencies will go to polls in the second phase on November 20. Counting of votes will take place on December 11 along with counting in elections taking place in Madhya Pradesh, MIzoram, Telangana and Rajasthan.

The 2013 assembly polls were closely fought with the vote share difference between the BJP and the Congress being less than one percentage point (0.75%). The BJP got 49 seats, the Congress 39 and one each went to Bahujan Samaj Party and an independent.

Modi’s attack on Congress came a day after Maoist rebels killed four civilians and a security person in Chhattisgarh, blowing up a bus with an improvised explosive device. Days earlier, Doordarshan News cameraman Achyutanand Sahu and two policemen were killed in a Maoist attack.

Modi said the Maoists the Congress described as revolutionary were responsible for killing Sahu. “He had come with a camera and not a gun. He came to share your dreams to the world through his camera but he was killed by Maoists. But shamefully the Congress calls them revolutionary,” he alleged.

Modi accused the Congress of having done nothing for tribals when the party was in power in unified Madhya Pradesh and added that no other Prime Minister visited Bastar as often as he did. “I have not come empty handed but given you some schemes and development programmes. Previously there were resources but nothing happened,” he said.

Gandhi hit back, accusing the Modi led Central government of ignoring tribals for sake of “10-15 top industrialists”. “In Delhi, Modiji has 10-15 industrialists friends and similarly Chhattisgarh CM (Raman Singh) has 10-15 big businessmen friends. Modiji and Singh never do any work until they take permission from these 10-15 friends,” Gandhi said, repeating a charge of crony capitalism he has often voiced in the past.

Gandhi spoke at four separate rallies in the state and promised to write off farmers’ debts within 10 days of coming to power in Chhattisgarh. “Bastar is rich in natural resources, but local people don’t have access to their benefits. The benefits are reaching a few industrialist friends of Modiji and Chhattisgarh CM,” he said at one of the rallies.

The BJP made light of Gandhi’s campaign speeches. “ No one takes Rahul Gandhi seriously in Chhattisgarh. Everyone know that he misleads people and hence people have stopped listening to him. The allegations against CM Raman Singh and PM Modi are baseless. Congress is losing Chhattisgarh and hence the frustration of Rahul Gandhi is visible,” said Sacchinand Upasana , BJP spokesperson.

One political analyst said Gandhi appeared to have the edge at least in Bastar.

“Both Modi and Rahul attacked each other in Bastar and were trying to woo the tribals and farmers. Rahul’s campaign will definitely have an impact on voters in Bastar because it is a Congress bastion,” said Ashok Tomar, a political commentator based in Raipur.

First Published: Nov 09, 2018 23:33 IST

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