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Campaign gets vitriolic

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 | PNS | Amethi/New Delhi/Sultanpur

The battle for votes for the crucial fifth phase ended on Tuesday, but before that big players went all out against each other. The highlight of the day was the bitter exchange of barbs between the Gandhis —Varun and Priyanka, and the BJP’s concerted attack against Sonia Gandhi for slamming the party in a televised address. BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi also continued with their vitriolic exchanges.

While Priyanka attacked Varun for his BJP link and accused him of “betraying the family,” the latter hit back at her, saying his “decency and large-heartedness” should not be “construed as weakness” by anyone. In a sudden poll-centric surge of family-feuds, Priyanka sought to push her new-found love for ‘ideology’ by attacking Varun. “This is not a family tea party. It is an ideological war. I believe anybody, no matter how close they are, own blood relations ... if they are going to be on that side of the ideological divide,” she said.

It is the second time that members of the Gandhi family have been embroiled in a war of words in the last four days — and probably the first time when two cousins of the Gandhi dynasty were caught in a verbal duel. “Varun has betrayed the Gandhi family,” Priyanka told reporters at Fursatganj Airport in Amethi on Tuesday. She had arrived there to campaign for her brother Rahul Gandhi who is contesting from Amethi.

The barbs were aimed at Varun who filed his nomination from the neighbouring constituency of Sultanpur.  “It is an ideological war. Would not have forgiven my child, if he did something like this,” she said. Priyanka made these statements an hour after Varun retorted to Priyanka’s “astray” statement. A couple of days earlier Priyanka had criticised Varun for his BJP link saying he had gone “astray” and should be shown the right path.

“I have always practiced politics of decorum. I have always viewed others with respect. In the past decade, whether there had been a member of my family or a senior leader of any political party, I have never crossed the Lakshman Rekha of decency in my speech,” 34-year-old Varun said. He added that “politics of personal criticism” should be avoided as “it deviates from issues of our times” and insisted on “raising the level of debate”. The BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from Sultanpur said he would not cross “the Lakshman Rekha of decency” adding “one cannot raise one’s stature by belittling somebody.”

“I have always considered the nation’s path as more important than my own,” Varun, the BJP general secretary, said in a rather sober statement. However, top BJP leaders intensified their attack on the Gandhi family by ridiculing  Rahul for his “toffee” jibe terming it the fancy of a child and asking Congress president Sonia to explain “under what model” was son-in-law Robert Vadra given huge tracks of land “at throwaway prices”. The party also took a swipe at Sonia’s televised advertisement terming it as a sign of “desperation”.

In a television advertisement Sonia has urged people “to defeat divisive and autocratic forces” that would destroy the Indian ethos, an appeal to voters against Modi. The televised speech adds Sonia to the Congress star cast in advertisements that have till now been dominated by Rahul Gandhi through the series “Main nahin, hum.” “Congress changed track yesterday. Rahul Gandhi-led campaigns and advertisements were given a backseat. Congress president Sonia Gandhi herself decided to lead from the front. She addressed the country by booking television time on all channels,” BJP leader Arun Jaitley said.

Hitting back at Rahul Gandhi for dubbing Gujarat’s development model as a “toffee model,” Narendra Modi on Tuesday compared him with children and said the word “toffee” has caught his fancy after he repeatedly spoke about “balloons.”

Addressing a rally at Hazaribagh, Modi said he thought serious issues would be discussed in this election and the galaxy of BJP leaders including LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Yashwant Sinha, Arun Jaitley and Murli Manohar Joshi were speaking on various subjects. “But on the other side, there is a player whose mind doesn’t move away from childishness. This is such an important election that will decide the country’s future but for ten days, a word that gripped him was balloon. For ten days he kept repeating it. However, children don’t stick to a toy for too long and now he has caught the word toffee.”

“Now you tell me what to do. I am not of an age where I can play with balloons,” Modi said in a clear dig at Rahul who yesterday dubbed the Gujarat model of development as a “toffee model” contending that land was given to one industrialist at throwaway prices. He said it was for the people to decide whether or not they wanted those who play with balloons and crave for toffees. Modi said that as a child who sold tea, he had not got toffees but had his sights set on trophies.

Hitting back at Modi, Rahul alleged that the Gujarat Chief Minister, who spoke about women empowerment, was “tapping phones of women” in the State. This was a reference to the snooping scandal. “The Gujarat Chief Minister taps phones of women. The police in the State stalk women. They should first learn to respect women before talking about their empowerment,” Rahul said while addressing an election rally in support of Congress candidate Vishwajeet Kadam in Pune.

Claiming that the BJP-ruled States had a dismal record of women welfare in contrast with that of Congress, Rahul alleged that 20,000 women had “disappeared” from Chhattisgarh. “We have endeavoured to empower women, but the BJP opposed the Women’s Reservation Bill,” he contended. Coming down heavily on Modi, Rahul said about Rs 10-crore were being spent by him on one public meeting and money was also flowing on newspaper advertisements.

The Gandhi family remained the prime target of the leaders with BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar asking Rahul to do his homework before alleging that 45,000 acres of land was given to an industrialist in Gujarat by the Government for Rs 1 per metre. “The land was given but not by Modi but by the Shankarsinh Vaghela Government supported by the Congress. Rahul Gandhi should do some homework before making such allegations. This is an attempt to defame the Gujarat Government and Modi and confuse the people,” party spokesperson Javadekar said.

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