Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi descended today on battleground Gujarat, mounting frontal attack on each other and questioning the contributions of the governments of their respective parties to the poll-bound state’s development. Modi, who addressed four back-to-back election rallies in his home state, targeted the Gandhi family and hit back at the Congress vice president over his remarks on the GST. Gandhi, in his counteroffensive, assailed the prime minister over his silence on the Rafale fighter jet deal and the row surrounding a company of Jay Shah, the son of BJP chief Amit Shah, and reached out to the influential Patidar community, a traditional vote base of the saffron party, a section of which is veering towards the Congress.
In a stinging rebuttal to Gandhi’s repeated criticism of the Goods and Services Tax, a key economic reform of the NDA government, Modi said a recently emerged “economist” was propagating a “grand stupid thought” by suggesting a uniform GST rate of 18 per cent. “Today, some so called smart people, some new economists have emerged who are misleading people,” he told a rally in Morbi in the Saurashtra region.
“Those who have looted people throughout their life, they can only remember dacoits,” Modi said in a reply to Gandhi’s ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ jibe, recalling the iconic villain from the Bollywood blockbuster “Sholay”. He said Gandhi was propagating a ‘grand stupid thought’ in the name of GST, telling people that they will slash all tax rates and make it 18 per cent. This means 18 per cent tax on salt and 18 per cent tax on luxury cars costing Rs 5 crore, he noted. He also brought up Rahul Gandhi’s great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru and grandmother Indira Gandhi as he targeted the Nehru-Gandhi family. As the Congress vice president today visited the Somnath temple, Modi told his audience that Jawaharlal Nehru, Rahul Gandhi’s great grand father, was “unhappy” when Sardar Patel took up the temple’s reconstruction in 1950s. “When Sardar Patel took up the work of re-construction of Somnath temple, Nehru was unhappy. Your great grand father Nehru wrote a letter to President Rajendra Prasad when he was to come for the opening ceremony of the temple,” Modi said.
“This land of brave people will not forgive those who have acted against the Somnath temple,” he said. Recalling the Macchu dam flood tragedy of 1979 in Morbi,the prime minister said he had spent one month working in the town after the disaster as an RSS and Jan Sangh worker. “I remember Indira Gandhi had come here and Chitralekha (a local language magazine) had printed her photo with a handkerchief over her nose, trying to avoid the stench, while another photo on the same front page had RSS workers carrying dead bodies,” he said. Gandhi, who kicked off his two-day visit to the state after offering prayers at the famous Somnath temple, reached out to the Patidars, recalling how 14 members of the community were killed in police action during their quota stir in 2015, and insisting those who raised their voice in Gujarat faced bullets. “All the communities are raising their voice here against the government. But what do you get if you raise your voice in Gujarat? You are beaten up, you have to face bullets,” Gandhi said. Visavdar is a Patidar-dominated constituency in politically crucial Saurashtra region.
“I asked Modiji three questions (on the Rafale deal). First, is there a difference in the cost of the planes in the first and the second contract (signed with a French firm), please give the reply in yes or no.
“Why was the contract given to a private industrialist friend instead of Hindustan Aeronautics limited (HAL)? And did you seek the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security for the deal?” Gandhi asked. He said the prime minister was not replying to these questions because he wants that the truth of Rafale and Jay Shah should not come out ahead of the Gujarat elections. Gandhi, who looks set to assume the reins of the Congress before the first phase of polling on December 9, called Modi an “excellent actor” who does not require a contact lens to shed tears. “Modi ji is an excellent actor. When actors have to cry in a scene, they use contact lens. Modi ji does not need contact lens to shed tears,” he told another rally in Amreli.
Earlier in the day, Gandhi tweeted “22 salon ka hisaab, Gujarat mange jawaab (Gujarat demands answers for 22 years of BJP rule),” he tweeted. “First question to the prime minister on the state of affairs in Gujarat – In 2012, he promised to provide 50 lakh new houses, but provided 4.72 lakh in five years. Will the prime minister tell whether it will take another 45 years to fulfil the promise?” Gandhi said in a series of tweets.