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New Delhi: Even as opposition leaders were furious with the Election Commission (EC), BJP schooled Congress president Rahul Gandhi for claiming that former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani had been “kicked out” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Friday, the EC had asked NITI Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath to be “more careful” following complaints of violation of the model code of conduct. On the same day, the EC transferred four police officers in West Bengal and of the Andhra Pradesh chief secretary.
In a letter to the Election Commission, West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee described this decision as “highly arbitrary, motivated and biased”. “We have every reason to believe that the decision of the Commission is at the behest of the ruling party at the Centre, i.e the BJP,” she wrote.
In another part of the country, Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu asserted that he was being targeted as he was one of the key regional leaders behind an opposition alliance.
“For the last few days, he [Modi] has been directing Central agencies like the Income Tax department, Enforcement Directorate and the police forces to conduct raids on my party leaders. I won’t be surprised if I am arrested in a day or two. What mistake did I commit? Is demanding our rights a crime?” he asked.
Both the Kolkata police commissioner and AP chief secretary who were transferred on Friday had been in the spotlight earlier. Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar had been pulled up by the Centre for allegedly impeding a CBI investigation into the Saradha chit fund scam, which is currently being heard by the Supreme Court.
Anil Chandra Punetha has been in the crosshairs of the EC for not implementing the transfer orders of a senior police officer.
Along with the regional opposition parties, the Congress too had harsh words for the Election Commission for letting government functionaries off lightly.
“Has the MCC now become ‘Modi Code of Conduct’. Adityanath insults the Indian Army – EC writes a love letter to him,” Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted on Saturday. The opposition had complained to the EC over Adityanath’s description of the Indian army as “Modiji ki sena”, while NITI Aayog vice-chairman had been censured for his criticism of Congress’s proposed minimum guarantee scheme.
“Why is the EC shying away from showing the mirror of truth to those in power?” Surjewala added in his tweet.
Adding to the chorus, P. Chidambaram called for the resignation of Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh and Rajiv Kumar.
Meanwhile, Adityanath remained undeterred and continued to attack the opposition Congress. On Saturday, he brought in a new element by claiming that “for the first time, China was forced to retreat” during the Modi government.
He declared that China had “tried to forcefully enter India’s borders and threaten our security in Doklam”. The Chinese and Indian army had been engaged in an eye-ball to eye-ball 90-day standoff on the icy heights of the Doklam plateau in Bhutan in 2017. After both armies retreated, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi eased the lingering tensions at an “Informal Summit” at Wuhan.
Since then, the Indian government’s public rhetoric against China has been subdued. Even when China put a ‘hold’ on the UNSC listing of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar last month, India’s criticism was much muted than in previous years.
During the election campaign, Pakistan had attracted all the ire from the ruling party, while China had remained in the background.
In the same vein, Prime Minister Modi continued to declare in his rallies that the opposition was a ‘proxy’ for Pakistan. On Saturday, he accused the Congress of wanting to hold talks with separatists “who take money from Pakistan”.
His criticism of Pakistan is also sometimes a dog-whistle.
At a rally in Maharashtra, Modi said that Rahul Gandhi chose a “safe seat” where the “majority community is in minority”. During a road show after Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination from Wayanad constituency, the display of party flags of ally Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) had prompted a social media campaign by the BJP.
The IUML lodged an official complaint with Election Commission in Pakistan against the tweet of UP CM in which he described the regional party as a “virus”.
“IUML does not need a certificate about its nationalist or patriotic credentials from any quarters, including Yogi Adityanath… The IUML is a recognised party in Kerala and has a long history of upholding the secular democratic ethos of our Constitution,” IUML National General Secretary P.K. Kunhalikutty said in a statement on Saturday.
Incidentally, Congress’s candidate in Mumbai, Urmila Matondkar may also be running afoul of violating the code of conduct for the use of armed forces during an election campaign. She posted a picture on her social media account of taking part in a street celebration of Gudi Pahwa. In the photo, there is a tempo in the backdrop with a large picture of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the Indian Air Force officer who was captured by the Pakistani military after ejecting in their territory after a dog fight over airstrikes.
Mind your manners, BJP tells Rahul
For the second consecutive day, Gandhi took a swipe at Modi, claiming that the prime minister had “kicked out” his “guru,” BJP veteran leader L.K. Advani, by not giving him a ticket to stand in the Lok Sabha elections.
“Narendra Modi talks about the Hindu religion. A guru is the most important thing in the Hindu religion. Advani ji is Narendra Modi’s guru. Have you seen Advani ji’s condition? He has been kicked out of the stage,” Gandhi said at Hardwar on April 6.
Congress Pres Rahul Gandhi in Haridwar: Narendra Modi ji Hindu dharam ki baat karte hain. Hindu dharam mein sabse zaruri chiiz guru hota hai.Advani ji Narendra Modi ke guru hain.Advani ji ki haalat dekhi hai aapne?Advani ji ko stage se laat maarke uthar diya gaya hai.#Uttarakhand pic.twitter.com/cxMZxapMZy
— ANI (@ANI) April 6, 2019
This was a repeat of his identical remarks at Maharashtra’s Chandrapur on Friday.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted on Saturday morning that Gandhi’s statements on Advani “have hurt us deeply”. “Please try to maintain some decorum of your speech,” she tweeted.
Later in the day, Railways minister Piyush Goyal also slammed Gandhi for bringing down the discourse during the election campaign.
कांग्रेस के नेता बौखला गए हैं, उनको यह भी ध्यान नही रहता कि की वह कैसे शब्दों का उपयोग कर रहे हैं। हमारे देश की एक सभ्यता है जहाँ बड़ों से उचित व्यवहार करना सिखाया जाता है। pic.twitter.com/ddB0Bbgwkx
— Chowkidar Piyush Goyal (@PiyushGoyal) April 6, 2019
“Congress has lost all the hopes. It is trying to bring down the level of the elections. He perhaps does not know civility,” Goyal tweeted.
The political soap opera that is the talks between the Congress and the Aam Admi Party to have a seat-sharing alliance in Delhi is still going strong. The latest roadblock is AAP’s insistence that any future alliance has to be extended to Haryana, while Delhi Congress in-charge P.C Chacko has said that his party was “only talking about Delhi”.
There was also a hint of possible new political equations after May 23.
In Agartala, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, who has expressed bafflement over Congress’s strategy, indicated that a new alliance with different political parties could take shape after the elections to keep the BJP away from power. However, the senior Left politician did not elaborate on this revelation.
The opposition will have to gear up, as the numbers in a new opinion poll are looking good for Modi. The Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) conducted a pre-poll survey among 10,000 Indians across 19 states and found that Modi government’s ratings had gone up by 12% compared to last year.
However, there is one silver lining for the opposition. As per CSDS’s analysis published in The Hindu, the numbers were closer – 46% for and 36% against – on the question of giving Modi government a second chance. It was pointed out that the UPA could not get a majority in the Lok Sabha in 2009, despite the approval rating being 64%.
The actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha formally joined Congress on Saturday – and the party promptly announced his candidature from his old constituency of Patna Sahib. A vocal critic of Modi, BJP had dropped him from their ticket list and instead given the seat to Ravi Shankar Prasad. Sinha publicly left BJP on its 39th foundation day.
In Andhra Pradesh, that will witness both Lok Sabha and assembly polls, both the main parties, the Telugu Desam Party and YSR Congress Party released manifestos on Saturday. They announced welfare schemes and sops for various categories including farmers, women, backward castes and senior citizens.
As electioneering continues in full swing across the country, voting has also begun, sort off. The first vote of the 2019 general election was cast in Arunachal Pradesh, with a service vote from a senior officer of ITBP. There are an estimated 30 lakh service voters across the country. The first phase of general voting is just days away on April 11.