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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

PM Modi opens campaign with ‘strong India’ pitch

At the rally, Modi targeted past regimes, saying they believed in slogans instead of acting decisively to ensure the safety and security of the nation.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Mar 29, 2019 06:11 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, Meerut
Western Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls on April 11 in the first phase of the general elections; the state sends 80 representatives to Parliament and the BJP won 71 of these in 2014, helping it coast to victory.
Western Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls on April 11 in the first phase of the general elections; the state sends 80 representatives to Parliament and the BJP won 71 of these in 2014, helping it coast to victory. (AP)
         

A combative Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his formal election campaign on Thursday, portraying the April-May general elections as a contest between “a decisive government and an indecisive past” and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the only entity capable of providing strong governance to an aspirational India.

“Whether it be on land, in the sky or in outer space, it is this chowkidar who has shown the courage to carry out surgical strikes,” Modi said in a speech at a pubic rally in western Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut, referring to himself as the watchman guarding the nation. His reference is to the surgical strike his government carried out across the Line of Control following the Uri terror attack, the bombing of the Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp inside Pakistan that it ordered following the Pulwama suicide bombing, and Wednesday’s test of an anti-satellite (or A-SAT) missile.

At the rally, Modi targeted past regimes, saying they believed in slogans instead of acting decisively to “ensure the safety and security of the nation”. He said his BJP-led NDA government was the first the nation had seen that “takes prompt decisions.” “Our vision of New India will be built on the foundation of our glorious past and a strong future, with a new identity focussing on safety and security, prosperity, and respect,” he said.

Western Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls on April 11 in the first phase of the general elections; the state sends 80 representatives to Parliament and the BJP won 71 of these in 2014, helping it coast to victory.

The 68-year-old Prime Minister, who described the coming elections as being all about the people’s dreams, aspirations and expectations, mocked the Opposition, including the Samajwadi-Bahujan Samaj Party (SP-BP) alliance, and derided the Congress’s promise of a minimum income guarantee. He claimed that the people of India have made up theirs mind on who to vote for in 2019.

To a crowd fervently chanting his name, he presented his government’s report card — citing the numbers that have benefitted from social welfare schemes, the improvement in law-and-order, and the freedom from corruption and ill-health.

But it was the issue of national security that was a recurring theme of the PM’s speech. The Modi government gives itself credit for adopting a muscular approach towards national security. It has steadfastly refused talks with Pakistan, pointing out that terror and talk cannot go together.

Modi’s speech confirmed that the BJP has pushed national security to the core of its election campaign after the February 14 Pulwama terrorist car bomb attack in Jammu and Kashmir that killed 40 paramilitary troopers.On February 26, the Indian Air Force (IAF) bombed a terrorist camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan, in reprisal for the attack, demonstrating a new approach in dealing with cross-border terrorism.

On September 29, 2016, Indian Army soldiers crossed the Line of Control in Kashmir to carry out surgical strikes on terrorist training camps days after four militants armed with guns and grenades attacked an army brigade headquarters near Uri, also in Jammu and Kashmir, killing 19 soldiers before being shot dead.

And on Wednesday, India joined an elite club of nations (the US, Russia and China being the others) that have demonstrated the capability to take down satellites using missiles, explaining Modi’s reference to strategic strikes on outer space in his speech.

As Modi kicked off the party’s election campaign a fortnight before first phase of polling in the general election, the BJP claimed it would win an “overwhelming victory.”

“The people of the country are aware of developments taking place in the country and in their vicinity,” UP BJP general secretary Pankaj Singh told PTI. “Parties like the SP, BSP and the Congress were earlier confined to a few states and seats in the country. But this time the people of the country will completely wipe them off the electoral landscape.”

Modi took a swipe at Rahul Gandhi and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee . Gandhi, while taking a dig at the PM after he announced the success of the anti-satellite missile test, had wished him, “Happy Theatre Day”. Banerjee said Modi engaged in “limitless drama”.

In his comeback,Modi said, “They confused A-SAT with the set used in theatres... should we cry or laugh at their intellect for confusing a space mission with theatre.”

He also scoffed at the Congress’s promise of a minimum income guarantee of ~72,000 per poor family per year. “People who couldn’t open bank accounts [for people] are now saying that they will directly transfer money to the poor,” Modi said.

Modi targeted the SP and BSP at the rally, making it clear that the alliance, which counts disadvantaged sections such as the scheduled castes, other backward classes and minorities among its supporters, is seen by the BJP as its main opponent in the state in the April 11-May 19 elections.

“They have just changed the signboard, the shop remains the same,” said Modi.

“It didn’t take them much time to go from UP ke do ladke [two boys, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and SP leader Akhilesh Yadav, who tied up in the 2017 UP assembly polls] to Bua Babua [aunt and child, BSP chief Mayawati and Akhilesh ],” Modi said.

He also coined an acronym, “Sarab” (alcohol), for the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party coalition and urged the people to shun it for the health of Uttar Pradesh.

The Congress demanded an apology from Modi for comparing the political alliance to liquor, saying he had lowered the quality of political discourse. “Modiji you have crossed all limits of indecency by calling political parties in a democratic system Sarab. You are so high on arrogance, you don’t need alcohol. No statesman has ever fallen so low,” party spokeperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

At the rally, Modi said he would present his government’s report card in the coming days and also fix the accountability of rival parties. “I will give an account of my work but at the same time seek an account from my opponents. Sabka hisab hoga, baari baari se hoga, tabhi to hisab barabar hoga [Everyone will be accounted for, one by one, only then will justice be served],” PM Modi said.

Later, at a rally in Uttarakhand’s Rudrapur, Modi blamed the previous Congress-led governments for delays in acquiring military hardware, claiming it was more focused on “commissions” from defence deals. He said the Congress-led UPA government had sat on the Rafale jet fighter deal for years because it was eyeing the “malai” [cream, a euphemism for kickbacks] it could gain from it. The Congress has accused the Modi government of corruption in the renegotiated and revised Rafale deal it signed with the French government in 2016 to purchase the aircraft made by Dassault Aviation.

The BJP has nominated Lok Sabha MP Rajendra Agrawal in the Meerut parliamentary constituency. He is a two-time sitting from Meerut. Lok Sabha MPs of Baghpat (Satya Pal Singh), Muzaffarnagar (Sanjeev Baliyan) and Bijnor (Kunwar Bhartendu Singh) also attended the BJP rally in Meerut.

Satya Pal Singh is the Union minister of state for human resource development. The sitting MPs of these four constituencies have been re-nominated by the BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha election.

The constituencies of Meerut, Baghpat, Muzaffarnagar and Bijnor will vote in the first phase of Lok Sabha elections on April 11. Uttar Pradesh will vote in all seven phases of the national election that ends on May 19. Counting of votes will take place in the state with the rest of the nation on May 23.

In a third rally in Jammu’s Akhnoor, Modi said: “I urge people to give a befitting reply to terrorists and their patrons by electing a BJP government in the elections.”

Modi’s frequent reference to national security and military action during the speech in Meerut, where the first war of Independence took shape in 1857

was a throwback to his speech in Haryana’s Rewari in September 2013 soon after being declared as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.

Paying tribute to Choudhary Charan Singh, former Prime Minister and father of RLD leader Ajit Singh, the PM said, “…There is a specific reason behind kicking off my election campaign from Meerut. I salute our respected Chaudhary Charan Singhji. Chaudhary Saheb is among the great sons of the country who forced the country’s government to pay more attention to the farm cells and farmers.”

(With PTI inputs)

First Published: Mar 28, 2019 23:39 IST