Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday alleged Pakistan was interfering in the Gujarat Assembly polls, even as Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi continued attacking the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments at the Centre and in Gujarat for benefitting only a handful of industrialists.
The Election Commission, in the meanwhile, said the final voter turnout in the first phase of the Gujarat elections for 89 seats on Saturday stood at 66.75 per cent. The poll panel had on Saturday declared an estimated 68 per cent voter turnout, which it corrected on Sunday. In the 2012 elections, 71.32 per cent voter turnout was recorded in Gujarat for all the 182 seats. The state will see elections for the remaining seats on December 14.
In a speech at a rally in Palanpur in Banaskantha district, the PM said: “The same Mani Shankar Aiyar who insulted Gujarat held secret meetings with the Pakistan high commissioner. What was the reason? Why are people who previously held high posts in the military-intelligence establishment of Pakistan writing that we should make Ahmed Patel the chief minister (of Gujarat)?”
The claim was also tweeted on his personal Twitter handle @narendramodi_in. The PM alleged that there were media reports on Saturday about a meeting at 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.
The prime minister said Aiyar had called him “neech” (vile) a day after the alleged meeting of Pakistani leaders with top Congressmen. The meeting at Aiyar’s house carried on for almost three hours, Modi said. “The next day, Mani Shankar Aiyar said Modi was neech. This is a serious matter.”
Modi added that former director general of the Pakistan Army, Sardar Arshad Rafiq, had backed Ahmed Patel as the next chief minister of Gujarat. “(On one side) Pakistan Army’s former DG is interfering in Gujarat’s election, on the other side, Pakistan’s people are holding a meeting at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house. And, after that meeting, people of Gujarat, backward communities, poor people and Modi were insulted. Don’t you think such events raise doubts?” Modi asked.
The PM said the Congress should inform the people of the country what exactly it was up to. The PM also criticised “some people in Delhi whose sole mission is parivar bachao”. He said these were the people who, after the first phase of polling on Saturday, “started saying EVMs (electronic voting machines) were “hacked thanks to Bluetooth”. “Some logic this,” he said.
In Ahmedabad, BJP chief Amit Shah held a press conference to repeat the allegations. There was no word from the Ministry of External Affairs about the PM’s allegations.
The Congress asked why the Modi government had allowed Pakistan officials to visit the Pathankot Air Force base after terrorists attacked it in January 2016, or why the PM himself travelled to Lahore to attend a wedding in former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif’s household. “It’s a foregone conclusion that he (Modi) has abdicated the politics of development in both action and words. But does it befit the stature of the PM to rely on canards, rumours and lies just for an election? This is very said,” Ahmed Patel said.
In his speech at Diyodar, also in Banaskantha district, Rahul Gandhi alleged there were irregularities in the contract to purchase Rafale jet fighters. He asked why the PM had replaced public sector undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Limited with “an industrialist friend of his”, who is under Rs 45,000 crore of debt, as the joint venture partner of the French manufacturer of the aircraft. The Congress vice-president, scheduled to be announced the president of his party on December 16, said a handful of industrialists have benefitted from the Narmada waters, while the masses continue to suffer.
The Congress leader said the PM has stopped talking of corruption and development, but spends half his speech talking about the Congress, which was intriguing since he also says the Congress is nearing extinction. He said the PM devoted the rest of his speech to talk about himself, but the issue at hand was the development of Gujarat. “Modi ji had promised big. A PM’s words should carry weight. Alas, there is no credibility to what the PM says,” Rahul Gandhi said. The Congress vice-president spoke of college education being expensive in Gujarat, the poor state of health care, how demonetisation helped only the rich, and the “reality of the Gujarat model” that has benefited only 5 or 10 industrialists.
He said a Congress government would waive farm debts and provide free health care and education. Rahul Gandhi demanded to know why the PM was quiet on the alleged irregularities in the business dealings of the BJP chief’s son.
In Gandhinagar, former chief minister Shankarsinh Vaghela said some leaders in the Congress didn’t want the party to win. He said it was difficult for the Congress to defeat the BJP. Union minister Ramdas Athawale, an ally of the BJP, said in Gujarat that the Congress vote share was set to increase but the BJP would win.