Starting his two-day Uttar Pradesh visit with a scathing attack on the opposition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today raked up the claim that Rahul Gandhi had recently called the Congress 'a party of Muslims'. He also questioned the motive for arch rivals, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, to join hands for the 2019 elections and described it as an effort to stop their vote banks from getting empowered.
PM Modi's move to reiterate the charge Defence Minster Nirmala Sitharaman first made yesterday comes hours after the Congress strongly rebutted the claim and insisted that the report in the Urdu newspaper was "concocted". Historian Irfan Habib, who was also present at the recent meeting between Muslim intellectuals and Rahul Gandhi, had also denied that Mr Gandhi had said anything of the sorts. Ms Sitharaman's press conference, nevertheless, was widely reported.
"I read in the newspapers that naamdaar (entitled) said the Congress is a party of the Muslims. I am not surprised... When the previous prime minister was in charge , he said openly that the first use of natural resources should be with Muslims," he said at a public meeting in Azamgarh to inaugurate projects, his first stop in eastern Uttar Pradesh. This is his second visit in a fortnight.
PM Modi said he had no issues if this is how the Congress president wanted his party to be. "But I want to ask the Congress - are you a party of only Muslim men but also of Muslim women," he said, before accusing the opposition of blocking the law in parliament that would make triple talaq a crime.
The Congress sees the BJP's repeated reference to the "concocted" news report as an effort to polarise the 2019 elections along communal lines to counter the opposition unity moves in Uttar Pradesh and beyond.
But PM Modi's choice of Azamgarh to launch the attack is also interesting.
Azamgarh, has been a dark spot for the BJP which swept the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in UP. It had, however, lost the Azamgarh seat to former Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.
In the 2017 assembly polls, the BJP routed Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party or BSP almost everywhere else in the state, but in Azamgarh's 10 assembly seats, it managed to win just one - conceding the rest to now allies, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati.
Beyond 'Vikas', or development, the BJP is staring at a formidable caste combination in Azamgarh - with a 70 per cent combined population of OBCs, Dalits and Muslims. This is a bloc of voters Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav hope to cement in their favour with their alliance in Uttar Pradesh, and take their wins much beyond Azamgarh in the Lok Sabha polls of 2019.
PM Modi targeted this alliance as well, pointing that people who earlier couldn't even bear to see each other, had come together. But they had done so, he underlined, because of their self-interest. "Because if farmers, dalits backwards get empowered, these parties will have to shut their shops," he said.
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