Elections in Gujarat are scheduled on December 9 and 14 and results will be out on Dec. 18.
New Delhi: National security and foreign policy have become the new rallying call in Gujarat elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who launched the Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign with a series of rallies in the state on Monday, lashed out at the Congress, especially Rahul Gandhi, on what he pitched as a variety of foreign policy faux pas.
In line with the saffron party’s narrative about the BJP being more nationalist than the Congress, Mr Modi raked up Mr Gandhi’s meeting with the Chinese ambassador when the Doklam crisis was ongoing, contrasted his government’s response to Uri attack with the UPA government’s handling of 26/11, and, without specifying where and how, alleged that the Congress celebrated the release of LeT chief Hafiz Sayeed.
For the first time ever, the PM directly lashed out at Mr Gandhi for his controversial meeting with the Chinese ambassador at the height of the Doklam crisis, adding that it took place when Indian troops were eyeball-to-eyeball with the Chinese PLA. He also contrasted the NDA government’s sharp response to the Uri attack — Indian Army’s surgical strikes, with the UPA government’s handling of 26/11. Gujarat shares a 512-km long border with Pakistan in Kutch and Banaskantha districts. Speaking at the first of his four rallies in Bhuj, PM Modi also hit back at the Congress vice-president for his “hugplomacy” remarks (a reference to the Modi--Trump bear-hug in the US).
“A Pakistani court released a Pakistani terrorist (Hafiz Saeed) and the Congress is celebrating. I was surprised why. And this same Congress refused to believe our own Army on surgical strikes and preferred to believe the Chinese ambassador,” he said.
After the release of Saeed in Pakistan, Mr Gandhi had tweeted, “Narendrabhai, nothing clicked. Terror mastermind is free. President Trump just delinked Pak military funding from LeT. Hugplomacy fail. More hugs urgently needed.”
Though in August this year, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, without naming Mr Gandhi, had criticised him for going to the Chinese instead of approaching the Indian government, this is the first time Mr Modi has directly commented on the matter.
“You are happy to hug Chinese ambassador, you are clapping on the release of Hafiz Saeed, you cannot respect Indian Army’s surgical strike. But why did you speak up about it? You could have just remained silent,” Mr Modi said.
India and China were locked in a more than two a month-long military face-off at Doklam that ended towards the end of August this year.
In July this year, Mr Gandhi had landed in a major political controversy when it turned out that he had secretly met Chinese ambassador Luo Zhaohui on July 8, a day after he had criticised PM Modi for his “silence” on China amid tensions between the two countries over the Doklam area of Bhutan which China covets.
The Congress had not disclosed Mr Gandhi’s meeting with the Chinese ambassador. The cat was let out of the bag when the Chinese embassy posted a message on its website about the meeting. The Congress was forced to admit that the meeting had taken place, but downplayed it by calling it a “courtesy” call.
On Monday, PM Modi further said, “India was attacked on 26/11 and in Uri. You can see how India responded in the wake of both attacks. This explains the difference between their government and ours.”