Modi uses communal card to woo voters

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Ahmedabad, Dec 5: If the 2002 Gujarat elections held in the backdrop of the post-Godhra incidents had seen a vitriolic Narendra Modi training his guns at the 'Italian bahu' and the minority community, this time round the Chief Minister has been much sober, though still revelling in taking potshots at Congress president Sonia Gandhi during campaigning for the upcoming polls.

Poking fun at the Congress' poll slogan 'Chak de Gujarat', he reminded Gujarati voters that it is not a take-off from any Italian language but from Punjabi.

With 'Soniaben' being Mr Modi's favourite target of attack, he has given the state's Congress leaders a royal miss. The minority community too has been spared from direct assault, unlike last time, when he made such remarks like ''panch ka pachees'' and ''Miyan Musharraf'' among others. Anti-minority sentiment is reflected in his speeches in patches, especially with reference to the Sohrabuddin killing.

Ms Gandhi, this time has taken a lead at attacking Mr Modi personally, calling him a 'maut ka saudagar' (merchant of death'), for protecting those accused of rioting and murder during the post-Godhra riots.

She directly took on him on the Sohrabudddin encounter issue during her campaign trail, while calling him 'jhootha and beimaan'' (liar and dishonest) in another instance.

She in her speech at Jasdan charged the BJP with using names of great Congress leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, but following the path of Godse.

To this, Mr Modi retorted, ''She being a foreigner has insulted leaders of Gujarat by calling them Godse.'' He also dared 'Soniaben' to hang him to death if he had done any wrong.

''Encounter, encounter, encounter. If she has the guts, she can hang me to death,'' he thundered at a rally in South Gujarat.

He also justified the killing at another rally in Karchelia village of Surat.''To someone like Sohrabuddin who was wanted by police in four states and kept arms and ammunition, you tell me what should have been done to him,'' he asked the crowd, who responded with,''Kill him, kill him''. He showed no qualms about admitting to the encounter in public.

He also accused her of double standards for 'delaying the execution' of Afzal Guru convicted in the Parliament attack case.

''Even after the Supreme Court had sentenced him to death, why has he still not been executed?'' he asked at a rally in Surat.

Initially, the campaign of the BJP began with development as its main plank, but later the communal angle was resurrected, especially with references to Sohrabuddin.

Harping on the industrial progress that the state has achieved during his reign, Mr Modi in his inimitable style asked people to make a choice between 'five years of development' ' or 40 years of 'jhoothi umeed' (false hopes).

Promising a corruption-free governance in a huge pullout, he claimed no one has made or been allowed to make money illegally. ''Na Khaye, na khawa de'' (I don't take, nor do I let others do).

The Congress has been quick to hit back with ''khata to nathi khawato nathi, khawa deto nathi, to Bhajpa raj ma awjo ruppayya khata kaun?''(If he doesnt take money nor let others do so, then who takes the crores that is being made from various scams). Pointing to the various 'corruption scandals' from Bangaru Laxman to the Rs 700 crore mining rights case, it alleges that no work in any Government office is done without paying a bribe.

Pooh-poohing the Government's claim of development, the party alleged that it has rather taken the state towards destruction. ''He is the Chief Minister for five crorepatis, rather than five crore Gujaratis,'' it said.

As the campaign progressed, the BJP midway has changed its focus to terrorism, tinged with a communal angle, accusing the Congress of protecting the terrorists by doing away with such laws like TADA and POTA. It also questioned why the state law GUJCOC has not been given the go-ahead.

The Congress pointed out that the maximum number of terrorist attacks had been in the NDA regime-- be it on Parliament, Raghunath Mandir in Jammu or the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar.

In its strongholds in tribal areas, the Congress harped on growing unemployment and need for change in its campaign. In dry Kutch, it has sought to expose the Modi government's ''false claims'' of bringing the Narmada water.

In the tribal-dominated Chikhli taluka of Navsari, Sonia Gandhi reached out to the communities by pointing out that the Narendra Modi government has not given them their land.

Mr Modi rubbished the allegation, saying his Government has already disbursed the land rights to the tribals, much before any other state. ''He is a liar,'' the Congress later retorted.

Apart from such wars of words at public meetings, the electioneering has been sans festive colours, especially in the cities. Most rallies, barring few exceptions, have also failed to draw crowds.

There is hardly any extravagant display of posters or hoardings on streets, thanks to restrictions imposed by the Election Commission. Campaigning by loudspeakers has been mostly confined to rural and semi-urban areas.

Apart from the Congress chief, national leaders from both parties have flocked to Gujarat to carry out electioneering.

If BJP boasted of such star campaigners as L K Advani, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitly, Smriti Irani and Venkaiah Naidu, for the Congress, Digvijay Singh, Kapil Sibal, Sushilkumar Shinde, Renuka Chaudhury among others came down to seek the votes.

UNI

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