By Mubasshir Mushtaq
NEW DELHI, Oct 19 — India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Saturday kick-started its campaign for the 2014 parliamentary election from Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s biggest state which elects 80 lawmakers to the 552-member national assembly.
“Those born with silver spoon can’t understand the pain of poverty,” Narendra Modi, the three-time Chief Minister of the western Gujarat state and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, told a roaring crowd in Kanpur City, 500-kms east of the capital New Delhi.
He bitterly attacked the ruling Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi.
“Listen to Congress’ language. The ‘prince’ says there is no such thing as poverty, that it is a ‘state of mind’,” Modi mocked the scion of the prominent Gandhi family, without naming him.
He also lambasted the Planning Commission (PC) headed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
In one of its report on the definition of poverty, the PC argued that if an Indian earns 32 rupees a day he/she will not be categorized as “poor.”
The PC later rescinded this position after mass protests.
Modi said he understands and sympathizes with India’s poor because he himself comes from a modest family.
The 62-year-old politician once sold tea in a Gujarat railway station.
Modi thanked the thousands of BJP workers and supporters for the huge election gathering.
“Today this crowd at Kanpur has won me over,” he told the cheering audience. “I sense affection in every corner of the country.”
The BJP parliamentary board has decided to name Modi its general, meaning that he automatically becomes its candidate for the premiership should the party win the 2014 polls.
The decision triggered euphoria among members of India’s main opposition party, which has been out of power since its stunning loss in 2004 parliamentary elections.
Modi started his North Indian election tour with today’s rally in UP, India’s biggest state.
He is scheduled to address 8 more public rallies in the state which sends 80 MPs to the 552-member Lok Sabha (“the House of the People”), the lower house of India’s parliament. Modi lashed out at the federal government over its Pakistan policy.
“Our neighbors taunt us with incursions and the government in Delhi serves chicken biryani meals,” he said.
In a bold and clear message to neighboring Pakistan, Indian Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid recently expressed optimism about the ongoing peace process and dialogue between the nuclear arch rivals.
He said his government has confidence in Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who was elected in May 2013 on a “clear mandate” of better relations with India.
Singh recently met Sharif in New York on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly meetings. Modi, meanwhile, accused the ruling Congress of “wasting” 60 years since India’s independence.
“Divide and rule is in the blood and DNA of Congress party,” he claimed.
“Wherever they went, they have followed this principle which they have learned from the British.”
The controversial politician claimed that his BJP party wants to unite people.
“We have come here to unite people.”
In an apparent reference to Muslims, Modi accused the Congress of indulging in vote-bank politics with India’s single largest minority.
“Whenever Congress comes into power, it sticks to one mantra of secularism and vote-bank politics. Congress divides people to rule over them,” he argued.
Modi claimed that his party, which many accuse of defining Indian nationality in terms of Hindu religious ideology, treats all communities equally.
“We should all work together to develop mother India,” he said, suggesting that the religion of the government should be “India first”.
A three-time chief minister, Modi has been seen as a divisive figure since the 2002 Gujarat violence triggered by the killing of 59 Hindu devotees in an attack on an express train. The attack was blamed on a Muslim mob.
Subsequent communal violence claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, and damaged hundreds of places of worship, mostly mosques.
Modi, as chief minister, is accused by federal authorities of failing to protect Muslims and their interests, while Muslims accuse him of inciting violence against them.
He has been accused of complicity in the riots by a number of human rights groups and the case against him remains in court.
Modi exhorted the Indian people to vote for change in the coming 2014 General Election.
“Do you want your children to suffer the same hardships you have suffered? Do you want to safeguard the future of the children? If you want a bright future for you children, decide today you won’t allow the people who have ruined you lives to ruin the lives of your children,” he said.
“It is time to uproot this government and bring the BJP in to give India new hope,” he added.
Modi accused the Congress and its government of ruining the Indian economy and that they have failed to stem rising inflation.
“Have they (Congress party) said they have tried to bring down inflation but failed? This is because of their arrogance. They do not want to listen to the people,” he said.
“Should you care about those who don’t care about you? Teach them a lesson so that no one has the courage to betray the people’s trust for years to come,” he told his audience.
Modi has led the BJP to three consecutive electoral victories in Gujarat, virtually decimating the ruling Congress in that state.
While conveying the image of a hardliner, Modi is also seen by many – including business leaders – as the chief minister who put Gujarat on the path to sustained development.
His supporters argue that he is a decisive leader who would be useful in countering the ruling coalition, seen by detractors as indecisive and largely responsible for India’s current economic mess.
At the same time, Modi’s critics see him as a dictatorial personality who does not tolerate dissent and discourages progress by other leaders.