Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi escalated their war of words on the campaign trail on Saturday, with less than a week left for the first phase of polling in the 2019 general election.
Modi said the Congress was a “sinking ship like the Titanic” and its “dynast” had run away to find a safe seat to contest. Gandhi, who this week filed his nomination papers from Kerala’s Wayanad, and said he would also run for election from his family bastion of Amethi, hit back, accusing Modi of having favoured fugitive businessmen and mistreating his own guru, the veteran politician Lal Krishna Advani.
“The Congress’s “naamdar” (dynast) had to use a microscope to look for a second safe seat. In the constituency he has chosen, the majority community is in minority. He has also said he will not speak against his main Left rival,” Modi said in Nanded, Maharashtra.
Earlier, at a rally in Odisha, he launched his strongest attack yet on Congress’s promise of a minimum income guarantee scheme that the opposition party said will entitle the poorest Indian families to an annual income of Rs 72,000. “I want to tell you about another conspiracy of Congress to rob the assistance meant for the poor. Congress wants to implement such policies, which will double the prices of essential items, including rice and wheat,available through PDS,” Modi said.
On April 1, at a rally in Wardha in Maharashtra, Modi had said Congress leaders were afraid of contesting “constituencies dominated by majority population (Hindus)” – a speech the opposition party flagged to the Election Commission for being a violation of campaign rules that prohibit, among other things, claims that are communally sensitive .
The Congress has said that Gandhi’s decision to contest Wayanad in addition to Amethi will help reach out to voters in south India.
Addressing a rally in Uttarakhand, which goes to polls in the first phase on Thursday, Gandhi reiterated his allegations against Modi. He said Modi had taken public money and given it to the likes of Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, diamond traders who have fled abroad and are wanted in connection with a Rs 13,500 crore fraud at Punjab National Bank.
“And now, when it has come to paying some money to the poorest as an income support, he is asking where will the money come from,” the Congress president said.
“I have consulted economic experts and they said it is feasible without derailing the economy,” he added.
He also spoke on the issue of BJP senior leader LK Advani not being a party candidate in this general election. “Narendra Modi talks about Hindu religion. In Hindu religion, the ‘guru’ (leader) is supreme. Advani ji is Narendra Modi’s guru. Have you seen the condition of Advani ji? Advani ji was kicked out of the stage,” Gandhi said.
Advani, who is 91, has been excluded in line with the BJP policy of not fielding candidates above the age of 75, party president Amit Shah was quoted as saying in the magazine, The Week.
In Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said Modi has been “blabbering lies in the last five years and has not fulfilled a single promise made during the last general election in 2014”.
Congress general secretary incharge of eastern Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi also took aim at the Prime Minister and his party.
“This is his ‘deshbhakti’? That he can go to Africa, America, China, Japan, Pakistan. Can have biryani and return but cannot seek the well-being of any poor in his own constituency. He made a tall claim in 2014 that ₹15 lakh will be deposited in the bank accounts. Who has got that money?” she said in Fatehpur.
“If BJP leaders, who talk big about patriotism, are true patriots, they would respect martyrs of the country — whether that martyr is Hindu or Muslim or the father of their political opponent. He is a martyr. You can’t be selective in which martyr you respect. If you are true patriots, respect all martyrs including Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi,” she added.
The first phase of polling in the seven-phase election is scheduled to take place on April 11. The last phase is due on May 19 and counting will be taken up on May 23.