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Modi trades ‘poison’ barb with Sonia

New Delhi, Feb. 2: Narendra Modi today played the nationalist, chastising a “divisive” Congress for “burning” Andhra Pradesh and expressing “shame” at the hate crime that killed a Northeast student in Delhi.

He hit back at Sonia Gandhi’s charge that some parties were growing “fields of poison”, asking who had sown “the seeds of destruction” by pitting Telangana against Seemandhra.

Sonia’s “zeher ki kheti” remark — without naming the BJP — at a rally in Karnataka yesterday had revived memories of her “maut ka saudagar” (merchant of death) barb at Modi during the 2007 Gujarat poll campaign.

Modi had turned that remark to his electoral advantage, and attempted a similar retort today in the western Uttar Pradesh city of Meerut.

“These days… issues are being deflected. Ask one question and you get an unrelated answer,” Modi told the rally in an apparent allusion to Rahul Gandhi’s recent TV interview.

“So, when people ask Madam Soniaji why farmers are committing suicide, she says political parties are harvesting crops of poison.”

He then referred to an incident related by Rahul last year. “Rahul Gandhi went to Mummy’s room one early morning and Mummy said, ‘Beta, power is poison’. If power is poison, who has sipped this poison most abundantly? Who is sowing and harvesting poison?” Modi said.

“It is in the Congress’s character to be divisive. Atal Bihari Vajpayee too created Uttarakhand but when the new state came into being, sweets were distributed equally in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh because we sowed love, not hatred. But the Congress has set Telangana and Andhra on fire.”

Modi attacked the Aam Aadmi Party over the lynching of an Arunachal Pradesh teen in Delhi, and for its law minister’s vigilantism on a group of African women.

His emphasis on “our children” from Arunachal, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland seemed to mark the BJP’s first notional move to recognise a Northeast beyond Assam, the region’s only state where the party has a presence.

Still, his Northeast agenda seemed to carry echoes of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s decade-long programme to “integrate” the region with the rest of India to contain the Church. The Sangh has been enrolling students from the Northeast in the Saraswati Shishu and Vidya Mandir schools run by its affiliate Sewa Bharati.

Modi said he planned to visit one such Saraswati school in Meerut. “I respect and honour the teachers… they have brought children from Arunachal, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur to foster their well-being and educate them,” he said.

“But under Sonia’s watch, we also saw an Arunachal student bludgeoned to death. I wish to tell Delhiites and (other) Indians, ‘Please visit Arunachal and feel proud’, because every person (there) is fighting China. In the rest of India, we greet each other with a ‘namaste’ or ‘Ram, Ram’. In Arunachal, they say ‘Jai Hind’.”

Modi expressed his “shame” at the “language spoken and deeds done” recently in Delhi. “African women were harassed. Our daughters from Manipur were targeted and our son from Arunachal was killed,” he said.

If this was meant to thwart his “secular” critics, Modi also desisted from trying to exploit the recent riots in next-door Muzaffarnagar. Instead, he attempted to paint Gujarat and the BJP as symbols of amity.

“A poet from Meerut, Hari Om Panwar, used to say that Ahmedabad and Meerut were alike because they had expertise in rioting. Until 10 years ago, there was a riot a week in Gujarat. Finally, the people of Gujarat decided we should live in amity, rid ourselves of vote-bank politics and embrace development,” Modi claimed.

“That is the BJP’s credo: brotherhood, peace, harmony. I assure you we will give you a riot-free Uttar Pradesh.”