Gujarat elections: Narendra Modi accuses Congress of stoking communal fire

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the inauguration of SGVP Holistic Hospital in Ahmedabad.
A day before Rahul Gandhi was scheduled to file his nomination papers for election to the post of Congress president, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday attacked the opposition party for the “absence of internal democracy”.

Defending his government’s ambitious bullet train project, Modi said it would bring investment and employment to the region. “Those opposing the bullet train project should travel by bullock carts. We won’t mind,” he said, addressing a public rally in Bharuch.

At another public meeting, in Surendranagar, the PM said the Congress’ internal election was rigged. He also accused the Congress of having a history of stoking caste and religious conflicts, dividing communities, disrupting peace and unity, and making Hindus and Muslims fight each other. “The Congress makes brother fight brother...You keep fighting each other, getting killed, and the Congress polishes off the cream,” he said.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala reacted to the allegations by reminding the PM how a long list of his and BJP chief Amit Shah’s “victims of internal democracy”, like LK Advani, Haren Pandya, and Sanjay Joshi, “have been compulsorily lost in the pages of history”.

With his party workers trying to shape a narrative on the ground of how a Congress rule in the state would result in a return of poor law and order and conflict that would hit trade and business, Modi said the Congress rule was marred by chaos.

Later in the evening, Modi addressed a rally in Rajkot. On Saturday, the Congress party had alleged that BJP workers beat up Congress candidate Indranil Rajguru’s brother. The Congress said the police beat up Rajguru, party candidate against Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, and other leaders when they protested in front of Rupani’s residence. “Gujarat, do not let this scare you,” Rahul Gandhi tweeted on Sunday, with a photograph showing torn clothes of party Lok Sabha member Rajeev Satav. He said Rupani had resorted to violence since he was scared of losing his seat.

In Rajkot, in a reference to Rahul Gandhi’s criticism that the BJP government in Gujarat had given away acres of land to the Tata group for its Nano project, Modi said some people needed to visit a psychiatrist to be making such allegations. For the first time, Modi also sought to counter some of the criticism by Rahul Gandhi, particularly on Gujarat government’s poor record in education and health sectors.

The polling for the first phase of the assembly elections is on Saturday, when 89 of the 182 seats are slated to vote. The PM is scheduled to address four public meetings on Monday. In Bharuch, the PM reached out to the Muslims of Bharuch and Kutch, saying the two districts were the fastest-growing districts in the state.

Without naming Congress leader Ahmed Patel, Modi claimed successive Congress governments ignored the region even when a key adviser to a top Congress leader was a Member of Parliament from Bharuch. The Congress disputed the PM’s claim, pointing to several development schemes the UPA government at the Centre had implemented in Bharuch, including it being one of the first five districts covered under the re-launched rural electrification programme in 2005.

In his Surendranagar speech, the PM lauded “senior Congress leader of Maharashtra” Shehzad Poonawalla for showing courage to challenge the Congress vice-president, but said the election was rigged and those who claimed to carry the flag of ‘tolerance’ wanted to muzzle his voice and remove him from party’s social media groups.

Surjewala said the PM’s love for “Shehzad”, “Shah-zada” and “Shaurya” was widely known, but the country wanted to know when he would reply to questions raised by senior BJP leaders “Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha”.

The day was also marked by a well-attended roadshow and meetings addressed by Patidar leader Hardik Patel. The Patidar leader has appealed to the people of the state to defeat the BJP.

In the evening, the PM inaugurated Shree Jogi Swami Holistic Hospital in Ahmedabad.

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