As elections approach, campaigns get bitter and personal

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New Delhi:  A week before polling begins for the general elections, the quality of political discourse has nose-dived, with many personal attacks and much name-calling.

Sharad Pawar, who heads the Nationalist Congress Party and is a Cabinet minister at the Centre, set a new record for senior leaders when he suggested on Sunday that Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, needs to be "treated in a mental hospital for talking rubbish".

Mr Pawar's attack on Mr Modi in an election rally speech was retaliatory. Hours earlier, Mr Modi, who held several rallies in Maharashtra on Sunday, had slammed Mr Pawar in Amravati, which is in a region that is considered the NCP leader's stronghold and has seen a spate of farmer suicides.

The BJP leader accused Mr Pawar, who has also been a cricket administrator, of having time to talk about the game but being "unable to save farmers." (Read: Narendra Modi slams Sharad Pawar for farmer suicides in Maharashtra)

Mr Pawar retorted in his speech at Ghanswangi, about 300 km away, "Modi must have become deranged as he talks rubbish and needs to be treated in a mental hospital."

Mr Pawar, who had only last month said that Mr Modi should not be held responsible for the 2002 riots in Gujarat since he had been cleared by court, also seemed to revise his opinion at Ghanswangi. He brought up the riots, accusing Mr Modi of being apathetic to the plight of victims of the communal violence and said the Gujarat chief minister "is dangerous for the country." ('Can't blame Narendra Modi for 2002 riots': Sharad Pawar keeps UPA guessing)

Opinon polls say Mr Modi is leading the race for the country's top post and he has been singled out for more such attacks. In Uttar Pradesh on Sunday, Haji Yakub, a Lok Sabha candidate from Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party or BSP called Mr Modi "cruel."

A Congressman Imran Masood was arrested over the weekend after he was caught on camera threatening to "chop Modi to pieces."

On the other side, a BJP legislator from Tonk in Rajasthan targeted Congress president Sonia Gandhi. He said Mr Modi would be PM and suggested Mrs Gandhi "get a visa to go back to Italy."

Many leaders of the Congress have, over the last few months, made attacks on Mr Modi. At a rally in February, Mrs Gandhi accused the BJP and Mr Modi of sowing "the seeds of poison" (zeher ki kheti) by inciting communal tension. (Read: BJP sowing seeds of poison in its hunger for power, says Sonia Gandhi)

For his part, Mr Modi refers to Mrs Gandhi's 43-year-old son, Rahul Gandhi, with the derogatory "shehzada" (prince) to underscore the allegation that the Congress is a dynastic party and that Mr Gandhi's ascension to top spot is based solely on his famous surname.


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