Campaign rhetoric keeps pace with rising mercury (Political Roundup)April 29th, 2009 - 9:16 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, April 29 (IANS) India’s main contenders for power escalated their war of words Wednesday, on the eve of the third phase of staggered general elections that seems destined to throw up a hung parliament.
Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani took on the Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), and both hit back calling his party a divisive force.
Campaigning in Left bastion West Bengal, which goes to polls from Thursday, Advani came down heavily on the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) central government for failing to check terrorism.
Alleging that not a single terrorist had been arrested in five years of UPA rule, Advani claimed that “all terrorists coming (to India) used to be killed” during the earlier BJP-led regime.
Expressing concern at the Taliban expanding its base in Pakistan, Advani said: “The Taliban is now only 30 km from India. If some serious situation develops then this government will not be able to tackle it.”
Congress president Sonia Gandhi hit back at a campaign rally in the capital saying: “Those leaders who talk of terrorism should examine their conscience … what happened when they were in power.”
She was evidently referring to the controversial release of three jailed Pakistani terrorists in exchange for the passengers and crew of a hijacked Indian Airlines plane in 1999.
That incident, when Advani was home minister, has become the Congress’ main stick to beat the BJP with.
And in an obvious reference to the opposition, Gandhi said that the Congress — India’s oldest political party — was “not like other parties who seek votes by creating divisions in society”.
The Congress and the BJP say they are the main contenders for power in the staggered Lok Sabha elections that end May 16.
Advani ridiculed West Bengal’s ruling CPI-M for trying to rustle up a Third Front calling it a mirage.
“There will be no Third Front (government), no Fourth Front (government). These are imaginations,” he said, adding India could be governed only by coalitions led by the BJP or the Congress.
A passionate anti-Communist, Advani charged the CPI-M with failing to bring about economic development in West Bengal, which the Left has ruled continuously since 1977.
He even blamed the Marxists for the pullout of Tata Nano car project from the state to distant BJP-ruled Gujarat.
In response, CPI-M politburo member Brinda Karat accused the BJP of aligning with “divisive and disruptive forces” — an obvious reference to a militant Gorkha party fighting elections in northern Bengal.
Karat told IANS: “It is shameful that the BJP should send its parliamentary leader (Jaswant Singh) to (contest) on the shoulders of a divisive and disruptive organisation in Darjeeling.”
Advani, who has emerged as the BJP’s main campaign speaker in the absence of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, also harped on the theme of Sonia Gandhi being the real power behind the Indian government.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi promptly called Advani an “acting night watchman” for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, whose name as future prime minister has been mooted by BJP leaders in recent days.
While the campaigners kept up the tempo, officials prepared for Thursday’s balloting in 107 Lok Sabha constituencies in nine states and two union territories.
And despite a searing summer, with temperatures breaking a 50-year record in the capital, thousands continued to flock to election rallies.
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