Domariyaganj, Uttar Pradesh: Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, today used a public speech to deliver a strong rebuttal to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who has charged him with practicing "neech rajniti (low-level politics)."
"I cannot deny I was born into a 'neechi jaati' (backward caste) but is that a crime?" asked Mr Modi at a rally in Domariyaganj in Uttar Pradesh today. (Watch: Narendra Modi's speech at rally in Domariyaganj)
Under Mr Modi, the BJP is expected to win the maximum seats in the national election. Opinion polls show that the Congress, led by Priyanka's mother and brother, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, is placed dangerously close to its worst performance ever.
Yesterday, Priyanka, 42, who has emerged in the last two weeks as the Congress' star campaigner, delivered a seething attack on Mr Modi, 64, after he campaigned in Amethi, her brother's constituency. "For this neech rajniti, each polling booth in Amethi will exact revenge," she said, stressing that Mr Modi has "insulted my martyred father in Amethi...the people of Amethi will never forgive him." ('Amethi will never forgive him for insulting my father', says Priyanka)
Her comments came after Mr Modi accused the Gandhis of arrogance. He attacked Priyanka for responding with a dismissive "Who?" when asked about Smriti Irani, the BJP's candidate from Amethi. He also referred to the early 1980s, when, he said, Priyanka's father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, "publicly insulted" T Anjaiah, then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister. ('In Amethi Not For Badla But Badlav',says Narendra Modi)
Apart from his development pitch, Mr Modi's high-octane campaign has been constructed around his simple origins - he repeatedly reminds voters he sold tea on trains. In contrast, he likes to say, the Congress is a dynastic party whose leader, Rahul, has nothing to offer other than his famous last name.
"I have sold tea... not the country... this is a democracy. "Mr Modi said today.
Senior Congress leaders have accused Mr Modi of "twisting" Priyanka's words. They stressed that her use of the term "neech rajnitii" did not allude to caste but to "behaviour." (India Votes 2014: Track LIVE updates)