Gabbar Singh Tax vs Dramebaaz Party: Cong, BJP trade barbs before Gujarat poll
A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s twin rallies in poll-bound Gujarat, Congress vice president addressed party workers in Gandhinagar, where he attacked the government over the economy.Updated: Oct 24, 2017 09:45 IST
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi attacked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Monday over the state of the economy and political bribery allegations as he tried to reach out to opposition leaders in poll-bound Gujarat.
At a rally in Gandhinagar, Gandhi repeatedly commended Patel quota protest leader Hardik Patel and Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani, two prominent anti-BJP figures whose support is crucial for the Congress to snatch power in the prime minister’s home state. There was also heightened speculation about whether Gandhi will meet Patel, whose community can influence the results in at least 60 out of the state’s 182 seats, but Hardik’s aides denied any meeting on Monday amid confusion.
The 47-year-old Gandhi, whose campaign received a boost with Other Backward Classes (OBC) leader Alpesh Thakor formally joining the Congress on Monday, also touched upon allegations levelled by a Patel leader that the BJP offered him Rs 1 crore to join the party.
“Hardik, Jignesh and Alpesh will not sit quiet now because their inner voice is not allowing them to do so. No Gujarati can sit quietly now. And Modiji, you cannot buy this voice…even by the money of the whole world,” Gandhi said.
His comments came a day after Narendra Patel, a Patel leader from north Gujarat and Hardik’s former aide, quit the BJP and alleged he was offered Rs 1 crore. In a dramatic press conference, he waved around wads of notes that he claimed the BJP had given him — a charge denied by the party.
Gandhi also criticised the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and called the shock recall of high-value currency notes last November a personal whim of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Goods and Services Tax (GST) has destroyed small shop owners and businessmen…it is a Gabbar Singh Tax,” he said. “What happened on November 8? Modiji came on television and said I don’t like Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. So I have decided to spike them… and by doing that he attacked the whole country by one stroke.”
But the BJP was not impressed, calling the Congress “Dramebaaz Party Number 1”.
“Thakor contested panchayat election from Mehsana on a Congress ticket. His father is district president of the Congress. And, you have Rahul Gandhi creating a drama as if some big leader has joined the Congress,” Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
“Has your party become so desperate after repeated defeats that you are reducing yourself to gimmicks to make yourself relevant,” Prasad asked.
Gujarat, which is expected to go the polls in December, has become a prestige fight for the BJP, which has ruled the state for two decades but is facing its toughest battle in years. The party is battling anti-incumbency and possible desertion by the Patel community, which is angry over not being given quotas in jobs and education. Additionally, a string of alleged atrocities have alienated the Dalit population.
“Today’s rally is a morale boost for Rahul Gandhi and the Congress. For the first time in three decades, the Congress is calling the shots and the BJP is reacting. But it remains to be seen if the support gets translated into votes,” said veteran journalist Hari Desai.
The Patel community is led by 24-year-old Hardik Patel, himself too young to contest polls. Hardik is said to be in talks with the Congress but has refrained from a public declaration of support.
Even on Monday, confusion reigned over a possible meeting between Hardik and Gandhi with the Patel leader’s aides denying any interaction between the two leaders. A meeting between Gandhi and Mewani, the leader of the state’s Dalits that make up 7% of the population, was also cancelled.
But the Congress’ campaign has been buoyed by Thakor, who rose to prominence as an alcohol abolitionist and claims clout in 40-odd constituencies, most of them along the coast and north Gujarat. The Samajwadi Party also extended its support to the Congress and said it would contest just five seats.
“This time around, Patel vote is likely to split. Youth may not vote for the BJP but elders may still stick to the party,” said writer and analyst Achyut Yagnik.
Gandhi began his speech with chant of Jai Mataji, Jai Bhim and Jai Sardar to appeal Thakors, Dalits and Patidars, respectively. On the stage, he also accepted a bite of rotla(Gujarati bread) with chilly and onion, which is staple for Thakors. “For the first time, the whole of Gujarat is out on the streets,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Narendra Patel and Nikhil Sawani — both Patel protest leaders — quit the BJP within hours of joining. Narendra Patel claimed he was given Rs 10 lakh as advance money for joining the BJP.
“This is nobody’s money. I will give this to the kin of Patidar youths killed in police firing while protesting during agitation in 2015’’. The movement’s two other conveners, Varun Patel and Reshma Patel, joined the BJP on Saturday.
Hours later, Nikhil Sawani told the press he was leaving the BJP, “upset over the Rs 1 crore offered to Narendra Patel”.
The BJP rubbished the charges and blamed the Congress.
“Narendra Patel first approached the BJP to join the party. Within hours he changed his stand. This shows how credible he is. The entire drama was staged managed on behalf of the Congress,” said BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya.
(With agency inputs)