In poll-bound Karnataka, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday tore into the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi, charging the opposition party and its allies with being "busy digging my grave," and lashed out at the Wayanad MP for his comments on democracy in the country as an affront to its people. In his sixth visit to the southern state this year, Modi seemed to have given fresh momentum to the ruling BJP's bid for a successive term, even as rival Congress has been mounting an aggressive attack over its saffron opponent on issues including corruption.
Assembly elections are due by May and Modi addressed two public meetings -- in Mandya in the Vokkaliga heartland of Old Mysuru region and Dharwad in north Karnataka, where the politically-influential Lingayat community holds the key to electoral fortunes. In all, the Prime Minister dedicated and laid the foundation stones of projects worth around Rs 16,000 crore, including the Mysuru-Bengaluru Expressway. The Rs 8,480 crore Expressway, which involved six laning of the Bengaluru-Nidaghatta-Mysuru section of NH-275, will reduce the travel time between the two cities from around three hours to about 75 minutes, according to officials.
Targeting Gandhi, albeit in a veiled attack, Modi asserted no power in this world can harm India's democratic traditions. In an apparent reference to Gandhi's remarks made in London -- that structures of Indian democracy are under "brutal attack", he termed it an insult to 12th-century social reformer Basaveshwara, the people of Karnataka, India's great traditions, and its citizens. The Prime Minister's statement is being seen with political significance as Basaveshwara is highly revered in the state, especially by the dominant Lingayat community, who form the major vote base of the ruling BJP.
"I have come to the land of Bhagwan Basaveshwar and I'm feeling blessed. Among the contributions of Basaveshwara most important is the establishment of Anubhava Mantapa; this democratic system is researched across the world, and there are several such things because of which we say India is not just the largest democracy, it is also the mother of democracy," Modi said. Addressing a large gathering after inaugurating the permanent campus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Dharwad, he said, he had the good fortune of unveiling the statue of Basaveshwara in London a few years ago.
"Statue of lord Basaveshwar is in London, but it is unfortunate that in the same London, questions were raised on India's democracy. The roots of India's democracy have been nurtured by centuries of our history. No power in this world can harm India's democratic traditions. Despite this some are constantly making it stand in the dock," Modi said in an obvious swipe at Gandhi. Such people are insulting Basaveshwara, the people of Karnataka, India's great traditions, the country's 130 crore aware citizens, he further said, adding "people of Karnataka should be cautious about such people."
Earlier in the day, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath too, in a veiled attack on Rahul Gandhi over his recent remarks in London, said when India's dominance on global platforms is growing, some people are criticizing the country on foreign land. Modi also targeted Congress and its allies, saying they were "busy digging my grave," even as he was focused on ensuring development. Addressing a public meeting in Maddur in Mandya district, he accused the Congress and its allies of being busy digging his grave, while he was busy working for the development of the country and the welfare of the poor, as he said that blessing of the people is his biggest protection shield.
Seeking to raise the pitch of BJP's poll campaign, he also asserted that the double engine government is a necessity for the fast-paced development of the state."Amid the efforts of the double-engine government for the development of the country and the progress of its people, what is Congress and its associates doing...Congress is dreaming about digging the 'kabr' (grave) of Modi," said the PM. "Congress is busy digging the grave of Modi, while Modi is busy building Bengaluru-Mysuru Expressway. Congress is busy digging Modi's grave, while Modi is busy improving the lives of the poor '', he said. "Congress people who are dreaming about digging the grave of Modi, don't know that the blessings of crores of mothers, sisters, daughters, and people are the biggest protection shield for Modi," he added.
Pointing out that before 2014, the Congress government was ruling at the Centre, Modi said, "it was a coalition government running with the support of various types of people. It did not leave any stone unturned to destroy poor men and poor families. The money that was there for the development of the poor, thousands of crores of rupees of it was looted by the Congress government." Earlier, Modi was accorded a rousing welcome during a massive road show where people showered flower petals on him. The PM threw the flower petals back at the cheering crowd at several places, during the road show in the district headquarters city of Mandya.
He enthusiastically waved at the big crowd, which had lined up on both sides of the route. The Prime Minister picked up the shower petals which got piled up on the bonnet of his car and was seen hurling them back at the crowd. He also got down from his car and greeted folk artists who staged a performance to welcome him. The ruling BJP appears focused on winning a good number of seats in the Old Mysuru region, the party's key weak link.
Mandya in the Old Mysuru region is a Vokkaliga community-dominated district, largely seen as a bastion of JD(S), where the Congress too is strong, and the BJP is trying to make inroads. According to senior party functionaries, BJP though has managed to emerge as the single largest party in the last couple of Assembly polls, it fell short of the majority due to continued poor show in the Old Mysuru region. Actress-turned-politician and independent MP from Mandya, Sumalatha Ambareesh announcing her support to BJP, just ahead of the PM's visit to her constituency, is also likely to help the J P Nadda-led party in the upcoming polls. She shared the dais with the PM at the Maddur event. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Pralhad Joshi attended the different events.
The Old Mysuru region, where 89 seats--28 of them in Bengaluru, are up for grabs, is spread across 11 districts in south Karnataka including Mysuru, Mandya, Chamarajnagar, Hassan, and Kolar, and it is here the BJP has set sight for an improved performance. In the 2018 polls, the BJP managed to win one seat in Hassan; later in the high-voltage 2019 by-polls, it netted K R Pet seat, registering its first victory in Mandya district and also won Chikkaballapur, another first. Creating a history of sorts, the party bagged the Sira Assembly segment in the Tumakuru district for the first time in the 2020 by-polls.