World / Asia-Pacific

India's Congress party head blasts opposition

By Agencies in New Delhi (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-16 08:02

India's Congress party head blasts opposition

India's Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi (left) and BJP candidate for Hazaribagh Parliamentary constituency Jayant Sinha wave to supporters during an election rally in Hazaribagh, India's Jharkhand state, on Tuesday. Modi is expected to win the election, according to a recent survey. Agence France-Presse

Sonia Gandhi, president of India's ruling Congress party, has issued a rare direct appeal to the nation not to return to power an opposition she said was motivated by "hatred and falsehood" in the country's general election.

The three-minute TV address was aired at prime time on Hindi-language channels just as an opinion poll showed for the first time that an alliance led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party could win an outright majority.

"Their vision, clouded with hatred and falsehood, their ideology, divisive and autocratic, will drive us to ... ruin," the Italian-born widow of 1980s prime minister Rajiv Gandhi said in the clip, broadcast on Monday night.

Gandhi, 67, has taken center stage in a bid to avert what polls predict will be the worst-ever election defeat for Congress, after a weak campaign led by her son and political heir apparent, Rahul.

The BJP dismissed the address as "a farewell speech given in desperation", driving home an advantage it has reaped from recent accounts by former government insiders that Sonia Gandhi had kept Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a tight leash.

India's Congress party head blasts opposition

"She wants to give power to the people but did not give power to the prime minister," said Prakash Javadekar, the BJP's national spokesman.

Heart and soul

Sitting in a book-lined study and wearing a dark red sari, Sonia Gandhi did not mention the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, by name.

But her comments clearly targeted his brand of Hindu nationalism that she believes poses a threat to social peace in India's diverse society of 1.2 billion, and at a BJP campaign focused on Modi that critics say smacks of a personality cult.

"It is this, the very heart and soul of India, that we are fighting to protect in this election, from those who seek to change it, and to divide us," said Gandhi. "They want to impose uniformity. They say: 'Just believe in me'."

Modi, 63, is campaigning as a no-nonsense administrator who has fought corruption and nurtured investment during more than a decade as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat.

But questions persist over an eruption of sectarian bloodshed in Gujarat in 2002 in which more than 1,000 were killed, mostly Muslims. Modi has denied accusations that he failed to halt the riots, and a Supreme Court inquiry found that he had no case to answer.

A senior Modi aide has, however, been banned from campaigning by election authorities for statements directed at minority Muslims in Uttar Pradesh that promoted "hatred and ill-will". The northern state, India's most populous, is a must-win territory for any party staking a claim on power.

India's five-week general election, which kicked off on April 7, has seen a high turnout so far in what some analysts say is evidence of a "Modi wave" that could propel the BJP to power for the first time in a decade.

On Tuesday, the survey for the NDTV network predicted for the first time that BJP will not have to seek new partners in order to govern, giving it more freedom to implement its Hindu nationalist agenda.

The poll also forecast that Congress, which has governed India for most of the post-independence era, would hit an all-time low in results on May 16, highlighting the damage wrought by allegations of a split leadership.

With Congress in disarray, NDTV forecast that the BJP-led opposition alliance would win 275 seats in the 543-seat Lok Sabha, 16 more than predicted in the last survey a month ago.

The BJP on its own would win 226 seats but it would avoid the need to find new coalition partners as its existing allies would push it over the 50 percent threshold, the survey said. Congress would see its tally of seats drop to a record low of 92, the same poll projected.

"There are two clear trends in the groundswell - anger against the Congress and the hope in Narendra Modi," Arun Jaitley, one of the BJP's senior leaders, said in a blog after the poll's release.

"My own view is that the actual poll always results in the front-runner getting more than what is projected," he added.

All previous polls have forecast that the BJP-led alliance would fall short of a majority, thus forcing it to seek additional partners who would likely want to temper some of the more controversial policy goals.

Amulya Ganguli, a New Delhi-based political commentator, said Muslims in particular would be alarmed at the prospect of Modi securing a majority given his reputation as a Hindu hard-liner.



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