India’s leading opposition figure Narendra Modi took aim at the Gandhi family political dynasty as he sharpened attacks on the ruling party before a crowd that topped 100,000 people ahead of state and national elections.
Voters must choose between the Gandhis or a leader who once served tea on the railways and rose to prominence through hard work, Modi told supporters in New Delhi yesterday. He was making his first speech in the nation’s capital since the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party picked him as its choice for prime minister in a national election that must be held by May.
“Today the issue is whether the country is run on the whims of the prince or on the basis of the constitution,” Modi said in the speech. The family of Rahul Gandhi, deputy leader of India’s ruling Congress party, has helmed the country for about four decades since independence in 1947.
Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, is projecting his record of governance and stronger-than-average economic growth in the state he has ruled since 2001 in an attempt to propel his party to national power. Corruption scandals have dented the popularity of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government in its second term in office, stalling legislation and harming efforts to revive Asia’s third-largest economy.
Rahul Gandhi criticized Singh’s order last week to allow convicted lawmakers to hold office, describing it as “nonsense.” Singh then said he will consider the issues raised by Gandhi after deliberations with the cabinet upon his return from the U.S.
Modi said India has become a global laughing stock due to corruption scandals and mismanagement. Singh’s government accepts corruption as normal and has failed to provide jobs for the young, Modi told the rally kicking off the party’s efforts to win a state election in Delhi this year.
“The world is moving ahead but we are being left behind -- we are a cause of ridicule for the world,” Modi said. “The government is mired in corruption. Instead of finding solutions to problems, it has stopped functioning.”
Modi also attacked Singh for being weak and questioned why he would meet Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after reports that the leader compared him with a village woman in a private conversation with journalists.
A Pakistani journalist working at GEO TV said that Sharif had likened Singh to a village woman because he spent so much time talking about Pakistan when meeting with U.S President Barack Obama on Sept. 27. An Indian journalist working at NDTV television channel, who was also present at the meeting, denied Sharif made the allegations.
Modi is “distorting facts” and insulting the prime minister, Rashid Alvi, a Congress leader, told reporters. Modi should focus on running his state, which is facing flood threats, Alvi said.
Modi made points that have the “potential to work brilliantly in elections,” said Jai Mrug, an independent political analyst based in Mumbai who carries out political opinion polls.
“Modi attacked the Congress party and the Gandhi family by saying they are allegedly addicted to corruption and don’t give credence to the opinions of lawmakers,” Mrug said. “On the other hand he tried to connect with common people by emphasizing his moorings as a young tea vendor.”
Delhi police estimated the crowd at 130,000 people, the Hindustan Times reported, without citing anyone. The BJP said about 300,000 people attended the event, according to spokesman Sidharth Nath Singh.
The main opposition party installed 100 screens across the national capital to increase coverage of Modi’s speech. The venue featured a 100-feet tall poster of Modi, and his speech was displayed on an 80 by 40 foot screen to the audience.
Modi has harnessed technology in election campaigning. He used 3D holograms while campaigning in Gujarat in December and has more than 2.4 million followers on Twitter, the highest of any Indian lawmaker.
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