NEW DELHI – Prime Minister Narendra Modi played the Pakistan card during his Gujarat campaign on Sunday, alleging that the hostile neighbour was meddling in the elections to the state assembly, and questioning some senior Congress leaders’ recent meeting with Pakistan officials, including the country’s high commissioner to India.
The Congress was quick to deny the charges and asked Modi’s government to repatriate Pakistan’s top diplomat in the country if he was indeed meddling in an Indian election.
Addressing a rally in northern Gujarat’s Palanpur, Modi referred to a Facebook post by the former director general of the Pakistan Army, Sardar Arshad Rafiq, saying that senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel should be the next Gujarat chief minister. The post was covered by a section of the Indian media.
Minutes later, Patel, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, hit out at Modi. “It’s a foregone conclusion that he has abdicated the politics of development in both action and words. But does it befit the stature of the Prime Minister to rely on canards, rumors & lies just for an election? This is very sad,” Patel tweeted.
The BJP has governed Gujarat for 22 years. The Congress is hoping to unset the BJP by tapping angst over the agrarian crisis and the implementation of the goods and services tax, and on the strength of a coalition, it has built with Patidars, some other backward classes, and Dalits. The BJP is hoping to retain power on the strength of the popularity of Prime Minister Modi, who was chief minister of the state for 13 years, and its record of development and governance. Analysts expect it to be a close fight, although the BJP has maintained that it is confident of bettering its tally of 119 seats in the 182-member assembly in 2012. Opinion polls give the Congress anything between 37 and 85 seats, and the BJP 92-141.
On Sunday, the Prime Minister continued his attacks on the Congress and its suspended leader Mani Shankar Aiyar over the latter’s “neech aadmi” (low-class man) jibe at Modi. The Prime Minister drew a connection between Aiyar’s remark and Pakistan’s interference.
“There were media reports yesterday about a meeting at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house. It was attended by Pakistan’s high commissioner, Pakistan’s former foreign minister, India’s former vice president, and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” Modi said. Adding that they met for almost three hours, he said: “The next day, Mani Shankar Aiyar said Modi was ‘neech’. This is a serious matter.”
Aiyar, who has been suspended from the Congress’s primary membership for his derogatory remark on Modi, refused to comment. “Why should I say anything?”
This isn’t the first time the BJP is referring to Pakistan in an election campaign. Last year, ahead of the Assam election, which it won, the BJP said if the Congress won, fireworks would go off in celebration in Pakistan.
The Congress reacted sharply to Modi’s comments on Sunday. The party’s national spokesperson Manish Tewari said: “Modi is back to the same old Pakistan bogey. It was Mian Musharraf in 2002 … Sir Creek issues in 2012, and now he’s talking about Pakistan’s interference in Gujarat polls. If Modi thinks that Pakistan is meddling in Gujarat polls, why doesn’t he expel the Pakistani high commissioner in India?”
Another Congress spokesperson, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, said Patel himself had dismissed recent rumours that he would be made chief minister if the Congress won.
The Congress also came out in defense of Singh and pointed out that as Prime Minister he never went to Pakistan in 10 years. “Is Modi suggesting Singh and former VP Hamid Ansari are untrustworthy people? It’s not Singh but PM Modi who went to Lahore and we got (the) Pathankot terror attack” Tewari said.
The first phase of the Gujarat elections ended on Saturday; 89 seats went to the polls. The second phase, for 93 seats is on December 14 and campaigning ends on December 12.