Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday sharpened his attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP as he campaigned for the second day in Tamil Nadu ahead of the April-May state elections. He also tried to strike an emotional chord with the people of Tamil Nadu and said he owed "a debt" to the state that showed "love, affection and respect to my grandmother (ex-prime minister Indira Gandhi), you loved my father (ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi) like your own".
Alleging the Prime Minister "serves only five to six businessmen", the ex-Congress chief said, "The 56-inch chested PM stands silent when Chinese Army have occupied India". "He hasn't uttered the word 'China' in three months. The Chinese understand that the man running this country is weak... that the Prime Minister of India has destroyed the economy of India," the 50-year-old MP from Kerala's Wayanad said at Dharapuram in Tiruppur district, about 460 km from state capital Chennai.
Invoking Tamil pride, Mr Gandhi further said, "Nikkar-walas from Nagpur can never decide Tamil Nadu's future. Doesn't matter how many parades they have.... Tamil Nadu's future will be decided by its youngsters. I am here to help you elect a government that looks after interest of Tamil people. We will not allow RSS and BJP to disrespect Tamil Nadu."
The Congress leader had earlier interacted with the owners of small and medium enterprises, industrial workers and weavers. Calling farmers, weavers and industrial workers as the "foundation of India", he also took on the centre on several issues - development, economy and new farm laws, and accused the Prime Minister of "destroying India's foundation".
"We have a Prime Minister who's trying to build a roof by destroying the foundation. Demonetisation destroyed backbone of India's industry. GST destroyed small businesses. The first element of India's foundation is diversity, mutual respect of all cultures, respect all our history and traditions," Mr Gandhi said, hitting out the central policies.
"First action that Narendra Modi takes- demonetisation. Crushing blow to the weakest in India. He destroyed lives of millions of farmers, destroyed thousands of small and medium industries, wiped out the industrial backbone of this country. Why? To help five-six of his closest businessmen. Then he passed GST law, five different taxes, 28 per cent tax. Why? To crush Indian worker, destroy industrial backbone, small and medium businesses of Tamil Nadu, to shatter dreams of every youngster in Tamil Nadu," he further said.
All along his roadshows and public meetings, Mr Gandhi tried to establish an emotional connect with his potential voters, sharing memories of his grandmother and father - ex prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
"I have a relationship with you that is not political but a family relationship. One built on love, affection and blood. You showed love, affection and respect to my grandmother, you loved my father like your own. That's why I owe you a debt, that's why I am here to help you elect a government that looks after your interests. It's my lifelong duty to protect Tamil interests in Delhi," he asserted.
Though the Congress will continue its alliance with its key southern ally - the DMK - in the upcoming polls, Mr Gandhi did not seek votes for the alliance but merely said: "I am here to help you to elect a government Modi can't control."
In the 2016 state elections, though the Congress contested 41 seats, it managed to win only 8 seats, and consequently the DMK lost the opportunity to form the government. Jayalalithaa won a second term as the Chief Minister.
However, the Congress-DMK alliance - in 2019 national elections - won 38 of the 39 seats, winning even western Tamil Nadu largely seen as AIADMK bastion.
Sources in the Congress say this time the party would settle for fewer seats to helping the DMK to capture power.
Seen as an early campaign in the state by Rahul Gandhi, he has launched his campaign from the AIADMK stronghold in a bid to consolidate support there.
After campaigning in Coimbatore, Erode and Tiruppur over the last two days, Mr Gandhi will campaign today in Karur and Dindigul districts besides interacting with farmers.
In neighbouring Puducherry too, where the Congress is in power, the DMK appears to be keen on leading the alliance, citing "winnability".