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INDIA POLLS: Modi slams Gandhis on home turf Amethi

Publication Date : 06-05-2014


Want to know about the politics of anger that they accuse me of, opposition frontrunner Narendra Modi asked the huge crowd in this backwoods constituency in India’s heartland state of Uttar Pradesh, held by Congress party vice- president and prime ministerial hopeful Rahul Gandhi.

Ignoring political convention that the biggest political leaders avoid personal attacks and campaigning against each other in their home constituencies, Modi yesterday travelled to Amethi to make the most stinging attacks on the Gandhis, starting with Gandhi’s late father Rajiv.

When Rajiv was prime minister, he publicly scolded the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, reducing his partyman to tears and unleashing a wave of resentment in the state, Modi said. His widow Sonia threw out the Congress president in a midnight coup and denied former Congress prime minister Narasimha Rao a New Delhi funeral, a privilege enjoyed by all former premiers.

As for Rahul, he insulted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was meeting US President Barack Obama, by appearing at a press conference in New Delhi to describe legislation crafted by the Cabinet as “nonsense” before tearing up the bill.

“Tell me now, my brothers,” said Modi, addressing the more than 100,000 people gathered by his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), many of whom had hushed up uneasily as they listened to him attacking the Gandhis. “Who plays the politics of anger?”

Amethi, where Gandhi is standing for his third election, has voted Congress in 10 of the 12 elections held from the district. In 2009, he won by nearly 380,000 votes, causing his nearest rival to lose his deposit. At the time, the Congress-BJP vote percentage was 72 to 6.

This time, the BJP has fielded a senior party figure, television actress Smriti Irani. With the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party also in the fray, BJP figures it can run the race close, scare the Gandhis in their den and expose their vulnerabilities.

The unprecedented vehemence of Modi’s speech also has roots in the increasingly vituperative nature of the long election, held in nine stages, the last two of which take place on Wednesday (May 7) and Monday (May 12). Counting begins on May 16.

In Amethi, and elsewhere in the country lately, Modi and BJP have been on the back foot as Gandhi’s quick-witted sister Priyanka hit back with a string of punchy one- liners aimed at them.

Modi told the crowd he was in Amethi “not for revenge but change”.

He arrived at the rally grounds by helicopter before moving to a stage set more than 100m away from the crowd for security reasons. Behind him was a huge banner that read: The Good Times Are Coming.

Perhaps in response to criticism that his campaign was polarising Hindus and Muslims, many of the words in his speech were in Urdu, the language favoured by northern Indian Muslims.

There was no question that change was in the air, he said.

“The mother-son government is gone,” he said more than once. “In the next seven months, I will change the face of Amethi.”

Political commentator Neerja Chaudhary, who drove to Amethi to hear Modi speak, said: “His speech will give a push to the BJP’s campaign and give voice to the dissatisfaction against Rahul.”

Modi has been criticised by Mrs Gandhi and other Congress figures for running on a theme of anger and promoting divisiveness, with party leaders referring to the Modi development model as the Model Of Dividing India.

Last night, a furious Priyanka Gandhi said: “My father has been insulted in Amethi. The people will never forgive Modi for this.”

*with additional reporting by Ravi Velloo


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