Less than 24 hours before Gujarat votes in the second and final phase of election for its new Assembly on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came perilously close to violating the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) while taking on the UPA even as BJP lodged a complaint with the Election Commission (EC) against Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi, accusing him of violating the same.
While speaking at the inauguration of 90th FICCI Annual General Meeting in New Delhi, Modi stopped short of naming Congress and also Gujarat thus keeping it within the permissible limits of the Model Code of Conduct but taking to task his political opponents nonetheless.
The Model Code of Conduct states: "Criticism of other political parties, when made, shall be confined to their policies and programme, past record and work" and "All parties and candidates shall avoid scrupulously all activities which are "corrupt practices" and offences under the election law, such as bribing of voters,
intimidation of voters, impersonation of voters, canvassing within 100 meters of polling stations, holding public meetings during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the close of the poll, and the transport and conveyance of voters to and from polling station."
While carefully avoiding words that might lead to a violation of the poll conduct, and more importantly, offer the Congress fodder to launch an attack, the prime minister tore into the policies and the alleged scams that took place during the UPA regime. Moreover, he spoke as a chief guest at an event and not at a political rally.
"These Non Performing Assets of the national banks was a much bigger scam than the Commonwealth games, coal gate, 2G scams. This was, in a way, an open loot of the public money, by those sitting in the government through the help of industrialists and businessmen. Did any agency attempt to wake up those who were watching this scam silently?" Modi asked.
Although the prime minister's speech was to an industry body, he smartly packaged it with the achievements of his government, faults of the previous government at the Centre while delivering an underlying message to those who are eligible to use the electronic voting machines (EVMs) on Thursday in Gujarat.
Remaining within the ambit of the neat conduct mandate, Modi sought to showcase how his government made life easier for the underprivileged class.
"We had a system where the poor always to fight for their rights. They had to fight for little things. When the poor wanted to open a bank account or wanted a gas connection, the system became an obstacle. They had to pay commission to get their own pensions and scholarships," the prime minister said.
Although the comments made by Modi were intended for FICCI, in reality, it was actually addressed to 2.22 crore voters in Gujarat who would exercise their right to franchise on Thursday.
"When some people sitting in the government put pressure on banks to sanction loans for selected industrialists, what was a body like FICCI doing? People associated with the previous government, banks, the corporate world and bodies linked with the markets knew that something wrong was happening," the prime minister said. No points for guessing the industrialist here is Vijay Mallya and the government referred to is the UPA.
From mentioning about his flagship programme Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to youth-centric policies of his government, the prime minister converted his speech to near campaign literally walking on the edge so far as the Model Code of Conduct is concerned.
"We are working towards meeting every single requirement of the poor, moving towards resolving every single problem one by one. We have made over five crore toilets under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan so that poor women are no longer embarrassed, their health and security are not affected," he said.
Taking on the UPA regime on the programmes meant for youth, Modi said, "You will see that this government is taking decisions, making schemes keeping in mind the need of the youth. You would see the exact contrast in the previous government. During that period, industrialists were given loans in lakhs and crores by putting pressure on banks."
While the prime minister cleverly laced his speech with all ingredients of a poll campaign, but keeping it inches away from the violation of the poll conduct, the Congress president-elect was quite direct with his comments, prompting the BJP to knock the poll panel's door.
"We will do very well. We will surprise you," Rahul told Network18 in an exclusive interview when asked about the Congress prospects in Gujarat.
Rahul, who takes over the helm of the Congress party from his mother Sonia Gandhi on 16 December, was also quite direct in his attack on Modi. "The prime minister has lost credibility," he added, "As he doesn't talk about development anymore but about himself and the Congress party."
In his first interview as Congress president-elect to GSTV, Rahul, in fact, chose to take on BJP.
"In the last three months, I have just raised the voice of Gujarat. They are not scared of me. They are scared of the voice of Gujarat," he said in an interview to GSTV.
"In the past 22 years, the main focus in Gujarat has been on just 10 people. Our focus will be on small and middle-sized businesses," Rahul said. "Our government will listen to your mann ki baat and will not take any decision without asking the people."
Despite being aired on a day when campaigning is officially over, the Congress president-elect threw caution to winds and launched a no-holds-barred attack on the BJP in the interview on GSTV. "Am I not allowed to visit temples? People from the BJP keep talking about this issue. BJP is scared. That's why they are desperately searching for issues," he said, adding the "truth about Rahul Gandhi had been distorted by money and power used by BJP".
Reacting to the interview, Union minister Piyush Goyal took on the Congress president-elect at a press conference later.
"As per MCC, such interviews are not permitted. We've learnt from EC too that 48 hours in run-up to polls, interviews can't be given. Is Congress so insecure? Only Rahul Gandhi can answer," Goyal said referring to the GSTV interview.
Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said at a hurriedly convened press conference: "The BJP is blatantly using Election Commission of India as a tool for its political gains, which demeans the independent institution."
Gujarat chief electoral officer BB Swain confirmed that they have received the complaint and the same will be examined.
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Updated Date: Dec 13, 2017 19:20:00 IST