Bengaluru: Countering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attack on his prime ministerial ambitions, Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Thursday slammed Modi, saying he was seeking to distract the public from the real issues in Karnataka where he claimed the Congress will win hands down in the Assembly elections.
“Modi likes to distract people. This election has nothing to do with Rahul Gandhi. This election is about the future of Karnataka. Narendra Modi has nothing to say about the future of Karnataka. He is, therefore, distracting. I am not going to engage in that distraction,” Gandhi said at a press conference here on the last day of campaigning for the May 12 elections.
He also accused the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) of trying to crush the spirit of the people of Karnataka and said the Congress will not allow it to happen.
He was quizzed about Modi’s attack on him following his declaration that he could be Prime Minister if the Congress emerges as the largest party in the 2019 general elections.
Gandhi had thrown his hat into the ring on Tuesday. Asked by the media whether he harboured prime ministerial ambitions, the Congress chief replied in the affirmative and that it depended on his party emerging as the single-largest party in 2019.
Gandhi ruled out the possibility of a hung Assembly. “I am very confident that the Congress will win Karnataka hands down. People have been very responsive to our party’s campaign across the state.”
He said that the Bharatiya Janata Party had rushed its national leaders due to “panic” about its victory prospects but the Congress “is focusing on the strength of our leaders within the state.”
He said the Assembly elections are a fight between the RSS ideology and the spirit of Karnataka, which the Congress wants to protect and alleged that the Sangh was imposing its idea of oneness.
“But we will not allow it to happen. This election is not about me. It is about the future of Karnataka. Modi is disrespecting the state’s youths by not talking about the jobs he promised and instead taking to personal attacks,” the 47-year-old leader said.
Gandhi said the Congress believed that every single person in the country should be able to express himself and the people in Karnataka should have pride in their language, food, beliefs, and way of life.
“On one side you have the RSS idea of one concept in the whole country. On the other, you have an idea that every single person in the country should be able to express himself; that all my friends in Karnataka should have pride in their language, in their food. That is what this fight has become. There is no half-way answer possible,” he said.
“The Supreme Court Judges, for the first time, are asking people for justice. The reason for this is because the RSS is placing its people everywhere. My friends in Karnataka, listen to this carefully. The idea is to crush your spirit. We will never ever allow your spirit and ideas of Basavanna to be crushed,” he added.
Hitting out at Modi on the issue of corruption, he said BJP’s chief ministerial candidate B.S. Yeddyurappa had been to jail and the Reddy Brothers had “looted about Rs 35,000 crore of the state’s wealth.”
“He (Modi) has nothing to say to the people of Karnataka as he has nothing to offer for their future. Modi waived loans of Rs 2.5 lakh crore of his industrialist friends, but didn’t care for farmers. Our government in the state waived Rs 8,000 crore farm loans but the Modi government didn’t contribute a rupee to it,” the Congress leader said.
On the Mahadayi water-sharing dispute between the southern state and neighbouring Goa, Gandhi refused to specify the party’s stance on the issue. “It’s up to the Prime Minister to resolve the issue. Whatever the decision is taken, we will support it.”
Karnataka has been asking Goa since 2001 to release 7.6 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet) of the river water to meet the drinking and irrigation needs of its people in the four drought-prone districts.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who was also present, said the BJP’s campaign in the poll-bound state has been about personal attacks than speaking about issues pertinent to the state.
“Modi has been making baseless allegations against me and my government. Our criticism has been against the Modi government, but there are no personal attacks,” Siddaramaiah said.
People have expressed their happiness over several of the schemes introduced by the party-led government in the state, he asserted. There was no anti-incumbency against his government, the Chief Minister claimed.
Earlier, in his opening remarks at the presser, Gandhi said the party had delivered on its promises and will do so in the future.
He said party’s manifesto was the “voice of the people” here while BJP manifesto was prepared behind closed doors and the party “copied from ours.”
“So, there is a lack of seriousness on their part about what they want to deliver… that, I think, is a huge difference.”
Gandhi said he had learnt a lot from the people of the state, from their spirit, from their perspective.
He said the Congress was united and fought the polls on fundamental issues.
Elections to 223 Assembly seats will be held on May 12. Election for Jayanagar seat in south Bangalore was countermanded owing to the death of MLA and BJP candidate B.N. Vijaya Kumar on May 4.
The election results will be declared on May 15.