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Lok Sabha elections 2019: PM Modi, Rahul Gandhi trade barbs on the roles of Army, EC

The war of words took place in the middle of a general elections in which nationalism and national security, opposition alliance arithmetic, unemployment, and agricultural distress have emerged as big issues

india Updated: May 04, 2019 23:41 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Lok Sabha elections 2019,Rahul Gandhi,Army
At rallies in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, PM Modi called the Congress a “vote-cutter” and said the people will reject “selfish parties” that insulted the country’s soldiers.(PTI)

PM Narendra Modi and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi ratcheted up the political temperature on Saturday with a volley of attacks aimed at each other, two days before the fifth phase of the ongoing national elections amid a slugfest over anti-terror strikes conducted in Pakistan during the tenure of the previous UPA government.

At rallies in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two key heartland states where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is fighting to repeat its impressive 2014 performance, Modi called the Congress a “vote-cutter” and said the people will reject “selfish parties” that insulted the country’s soldiers. He also accused the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief, Akhilesh Yadav, of cheating his so-called Bua, or aunt (ally and Bahujan Samaj Party chief, Mayawati), by benefitting from her vote bank and falsely promising her the PM’s chair.

“However, after realising the SP-Congress game, Mayawati has been openly criticising the Congress while Akhilesh prefers to remain silent. Congress leaders are even attending SP rallies,” he alleged in Pratapgarh.

Gandhi responded in a speech in Delhi, saying the defence forces were not the PM’s personal property, and took a swipe at the BJP for the previous NDA government’s decision to release Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar in 1999 after an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked to Kandahar in Afghanistan.

“The army, air force or navy are not the personal property of Narendra Modi. When he says that surgical strikes during the UPA were done in video games then he is not insulting Congress but the Indian Army. We do not politicise the Indian Army,” said Gandhi. The comment came a day after Modi said the surgical strikes conducted during the UPA tenure – the Congress has claimed there were six — were only on paper or in a video game.

Gandhi also hit out at the Election Commission of India (EC) and said that the poll watchdog was on “the straight line” when it came to complaints from the BJP but was “completely biased” when it came to Opposition complaints.The EC cleared Modi of any wrongdoing in six cases of alleged poll code violation and BJP chief Amit Shah in two. Gandhi himself has been cleared in one case. The EC did not immediately respond to Gandhi’s charge.

Responding over allegations against the EC, Modi said: “These are all excuses with which they want to explain away their imminent defeat. They are like the batsman who blames the umpire upon being clean bowled. They also remind me of the student, who flunks in examination and blames his failure on everything except his own lack of preparedness.” The 48-year-old Congress president also criticised Modi for taking credit for the United Nations Security Council designating Masood Azhar a global terrorist earlier this week. Gandhi said it was the BJP-led government under AB Vajpayee that released Azhar. “Who had sent him to Pakistan? He is being designated, but who sent him there in the first place? Did the Congress party do it? Who bowed in front of terrorism,” he asked.

The war of words took place in the middle of a general elections in which nationalism and national security, opposition alliance arithmetic, unemployment, and agricultural distress have emerged as big issues.

In Uttar Pradesh, Modi dismissed the Congress as “vote cutter” party and said it was maligning his honesty and hard work. “Till the first phase, the Congress leaders were dreaming of PM’s chair, but after four phases of polling they have themselves started confessing that they had been reduced to the status of ‘vote cutter’ party,” said the Prime Minister in Pratapgarh.

It was a reference to remarks attributed to Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra that the party had fielded weak candidates in some constituencies in UP just to cut into the votes of the BJP and help the SP-BSP alliance.

Referring to the SP-BSP alliance as ‘Maha Milavati’ (mega adulterated), the PM said there were five major risks associated with such an alliance which were corruption, instability, casteism, dynastic rule and mis-governance. “Naamdar [dynast – a reference to Gandhi], listen to me. Modi has grown up with the dust of ‘Bharat Maa’ and had lived for ‘Bharat Mata’. You cannot destroy my penance though any interview on a television channel. This country forgives mistakes but not deceit,” he said.

In Basti, Modi said the opposition parties were desperate to grab power but Delhi will be far from their reach. “People will reject the selfish parties who insulted our soldiers as the conscience of country has woken up now. They will now vote on the basis of Niyat and Niti [policy and intention],” said Modi.

He also accused his rival parties of mismanaging law and order. “During the BSP regime, neither ambulances were safe nor the Taj Mahal was safe. During SP’s tenure, sand, and even household taps were not spared,” he said. In Bihar’s West Champaran district, Modi warned people against “gimmicks” by the Congress to “dupe” poor farmers.

Later in the day in Delhi, Gandhi credited his party for “demolishing” Modi’s image. “He is using nationalism as a means to distract. We have fought him in four-five elections, in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, etc. As soon as he realises that he is not going to win then he brings something new like the seaplane in Gujarat.” That was a reference to Modi landing on the Sabarmati river in a seaplane towards the end of the Gujarat poll campaign in 2017. He signed off by asking the PM to address at least one press conference before the elections end. “It is really looking very bad. He is looking terrible...”

First Published: May 04, 2019 23:39 IST