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Narendra Modi's Rajiv Gandhi jibe prompts political war of words; Congress accuses PM of insulting the dead

Political discourse usually stoops to many levels during elections when stakes are high. Lok Sabha election 2019, currently underway, is no different. The latest affront over former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi has both the national parties — Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party — going at each other's throats. Five out of seven phases of Lok Sabha elections are over, and with two phases remaining to go, politicians are not pulling any punches as campaign debates get hotter and messier.

The latest diatribe by Modi, which has drawn extreme criticism, was after his rally in Uttar Pradesh's Pratapgarh. "Your father was termed 'Mr Clean' by his courtiers, but his life ended as 'Bhrashtachari No 1' (corrupt number 1)," Modi had said. Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray and several other Opposition leaders reacted to the comment, saying that it was inappropriate of the prime minister to make such statements about a deceased predecessor, who had been assassinated by terrorists.

Patel slammed the ruling party and the prime minister for raking an issue about a person who is "no longer here amongst us to answer the baseless allegations." Taking to Twitter, Patel on Thursday said, "Rajiv ji lost his life due to their hatred & is no longer here amongst us to answer the baseless allegations & abuses which are being unleashed on him. (sic)"

Following Modi's remark, a delegation of senior Congress leaders including Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Rajiv Shukla, and Salman Khurshid met officials of the Election Commission and apprised the poll body of their objection over the prime minister's statement. The electoral body, however, gave a clean chit to Modi on 7 May. "The speech mentioned in this complaint has been examined with a view to identifying instances of violation of the Model Code of Conduct. Prima facie, we did not figure out any literal violation of MCC as given in the Election Commission of India instructions. The case is, therefore, disposed of," the Election Commission said.

Meanwhile, Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy tweeted:

Most Congress leaders tweeted out their "disgust" after party president Rahul Gandhi tweeted out:

Congress general secretary and Karnataka party in-charge KC Venugopal also blasted Modi. "Prime Minister is desperately trying to spread untruths about one of the most respectable political figures India ever had due to frustration and fear for losing the election," said Venugopal in a tweet.

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Lamenting that no prime minister had hit such a low, Venugopal said Modi's comments were disgusting and the nation would not tolerate them. "Spreading lies and character assassination of political opponents even after their supreme sacrifice for the nation is a new low in the political discourse of the country. No Prime Minister in the country have ever stooped such a low for cheap political gain," Venugopal was quoted as saying in a statement later.

One young man from Amethi, in fact, wrote a letter with his blood allegedly, seeking a directive for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to abstain from making objectionable comments that hurt the sentiments of the people. The letter was addressed to the Election Commission. According to IANS, Manoj Kashyap of Shahgarh in Amethi wrote that he was 'traumatised' by the statements of Modi against late Rajiv Gandhi. He wrote that the former prime minister lowered the voting age to 18 years, implemented the Panchayati Raj system and brought in the computer revolution in the country.

 Narendra Modis Rajiv Gandhi jibe prompts political war of words; Congress accuses PM of insulting the dead

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

"Former Prime Minister late Atal Bihari Vajpayee had also praised Rajiv Gandhi in an article," he pointed out. He further wrote that for the people of Amethi anyone who insults Rajiv Gandhi is akin to those who assassinated him. Kashyap wrote that Rajiv Gandhi lives on in the hearts of the people of Amethi and also the country and the Prime Minister must be directed not to make such remarks against the late leader.

However, BJP's ally Shiv Sena defended the prime minister and said that Modi has only 'given it back' to Rahul for his 'karma' as he had insulted Veer Savarkar.  "Rajiv Gandhi was killed in an attack by the Tamil militants and all were saddened that Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi's father left them... Before his entry into politics, Rajiv Gandhi did nothing great for the nation, hence a term like 'sacrifice' doesn't suit him," the party said.

Comparing Rajiv Gandhi to the freedom fighter, Sena wrote in its editorial mouthpiece Saamna, "He (Rajiv) became prime minister after Indira Gandhi was brutally murdered and later on his politics and life also ended in a sad manner. But such was not the case with Veer Savarkar, who at the age of 14 years pledged in front of the Almighty to get independence for his nation and fight British till his last breath... The killing of Rajiv Gandhi was unfortunate but Savarkar's sacrifice is always inspiring."

Interestingly, Karnataka BJP leader V Srinivasa Prasad also slammed Modi for labelling corruption allegations against Rajiv Gandhi and said that the prime minister should have not have dragged his name. "Allegations against him (Rajiv) in the Bofors scam are not acceptable. Modi should not have spoken like that against him. It was unnecessary to take his name," said Prasad, who is six-time MP and former Karnataka state minister. "I have lots of respect for Modi but even the tallest of leaders like Vajpayee said many good things about Rajiv Gandhi. I have myself seen him take big responsibilities at a small age," Prasad said.

But Modi didn't stop at calling Rajiv Gandhi corrupt. After courting controversy over remarks made at the Uttar Pradesh rally, the prime minister challenged the Congress to fight the remaining phases of the election on the issue of Rajiv Gandhi's self-respect. "I challenge the Congress party, its president, his family and associates to fight the remaining two phases of the elections on the issue of respect of the former prime minister who faced serious charges of corruption," Modi had said at an election rally in Jharkhand earlier this week.

On Wednesday, Modi accused Rajiv Gandhi of using aircraft carrier INS Viraat and its personnel for vacations with his "foreigner in-laws". The prime minister raked up the issue again at a rally in New Delhi's Ramlila Maidan to counter the attack by Congress leaders who said that defence forces have been politicised by the BJP, citing remarks by BJP leaders that "Modi ki sena" had carried out air strikes on a terror camp in Pakistan.

"Who has been treating the forces as personal property? ... have you ever heard that a family goes for a holiday on a warship? This has happened in our country. The 'naamdar' family used INS Viraat as its personal property. They insulted it."

INS Viraat was withdrawn from its place of deployment and sent to fetch the in-laws of Rajiv Gandhi before it was taken to an island where nobody was there to welcome them and all arrangements for them were made by the personnel of the aircraft carrier, Modi alleged. The holiday continued not for one day, but for 10 days during which the warship remained stationed there, he said, indicating that the war of words over the deceased Congress leader is far from over for BJP.

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Updated Date: May 09, 2019 14:24:15 IST