Karnataka polls: PM Modi attacks Congress on corruption, incompetence

Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Corruption and the Congress’s sense of entitlement was the dominant theme of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public meeting at Hubbali, an area in North Karnataka that is beset with an agrarian crisis.

Modi made just one reference to the problems of farmers — by citing the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s statement in court that arecanut (supari) is bad for health, thus plunging arecanut growers in the region in a crisis. However, the cultivation of arecanut is widespread in coastal Karnataka that Modi visited earlier. In North Karnataka, only one district Sirsi grows arecanut, a commodity highly prized for its contribution to the gutka industry. Supari growers are wealthy and have considerable political clout in the coastal Karnataka and Shivamogga area.

Modi’s speech was a full-blown attack on the Congress for corruption and incompetence. He cited several examples, including the electrification of villages and laying a fibre optic network that the Congress had been tardy in doing but his government had completed in record time. For instance, he said between 2011 and 2014, the Congress had managed to link only 59 villages by optic fibre cable while his government had put optic fibre in 100,000 villages. Modi said of around 250 million families in India, 40 million still had to do without electricity and India would complete this task by 2022. The Hubbali Ankola railway line was launched during the Atal Behari Vajpayee regime but had languished because the state government had not taken it forward. Hubbali Dharwad was among the cities selected as Smart Cities under the central plan but of the Rs 8 billion sanctioned by the Centre, the state government had managed to spend only Rs 120 million.

Modi said one reason why Karnataka had not managed to take advantage of all central schemes was that the leadership was corrupt and worked only when contractors, agents and commissions were involved. 

Modi said both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were out on bail because they had cases of defalcation, amounting to Rs 50 billion against them. Possibly anticipating that the same could be said of B S Yeddyurappa, Modi said the former chief minister had been cleared of all charges and that the Congress was lying when it accused the former chief minister of malfeasance.

Modi said he wanted to lay the foundations of a new India, where the civil aviation boom would transform small towns, and where people could aspire to a better life. He cited the increase in the number of companies making mobile phones during the UPA regime: There were only 2 but now 120 companies were making phones in India. He attacked the government’s critics on job creation and said the government’s policies will lead to employment. He also referred to the medical insurance and wellness programmes to say that bringing down costs of medicines and organ transplantation was a big achievement of his government. 

For the most part, the crowd was responsive, especially on issues of corruption — except when he specifically referred to Siddaramaiah, the response was somewhat subdued. 

Modi’s parting shot, however, charging Siddaramaiah with superstition for changing a new car simply because a crow had sat on its roof, drew an appreciative response, especially when he said that these days, Siddaramaiah must be going around town with lemons in his pocket because these are supposed to drive the evil eye away.