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Modi fires, Sonia retaliates

Crowd makes the difference

Balasore, April 11: Barbs flew as poll temperature reached a flashpoint with BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi targeting each other, without taking names, at rallies held here today.

Coming into the town like gunslingers intent on a showdown, the rivals pulled no punches while attacking each other. “The BJP is trying to divide the society and spread violence. This is going to harm the country,” said Sonia, a few hours after Modi had fired shots at the Congress.

She called upon people to vote for a party, which can carry every section of society with it while taking the country forward. “Only the Congress can do this. So vote for us,” urged the Gandhi bahu, who wore a Sambalpuri handloom sari with its pallu covering her head.

In a belligerent mood, the UPA boss slammed the Opposition for trying to grab power by hook or crook. “Their only agenda is opposing the Congress and capturing power by any means, even at the cost of the people,” she told a gathering dominated by women, who cheered her on.

Sporting a grey kurta that toned with his trademark white beard, Modi, too, appeared to be unusually pugnacious, dubbing the 10-year-old UPA regime as “black magic” government, which had made every thing disappear from the country. “For the past 10 years, they have been doing black magic making even coal and jobs vanish,” said the Gujarat strongman in a style now typical of him.

Separated by only 2km, both the meeting venues saw a crowd of 20,000-25,000 people. But the difference lay in the crowds’ complexion. The one at ITI ground, where Sonia held her show, was drawn mainly from the district’s rural belt with a sizeable chunk of women, especially Muslims. Modi’s rally at Permit ground consisted of mainly young voters, who chanted “Modi, Modi” each time the BJP campaign committee chief came up with a punchline.

Modi’s 20-minute speech was packed with punches. “This is going to be the bidai chunav (farewell election) for the Congress and the BJD. Yesterday, the polling made it clear that people want change,” said Modi.

The BJP prime ministerial nominee also took a dig at Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for visiting poverty-ridden hamlets across the country with mediapersons in tow. “Such leaders are more keen on a photo-ops. For them, poverty is something to be showcaused, but we are committed to change the lot of the poor,” he said.

Both Sonia and Modi went against the state’s BJD government all guns blazing. Sonia was more severe in her criticism of the Naveen Patnaik regime than her BJP rival though both refrained from naming the chief minister.

Lashing out at the BJD, Sonia accused it of bungling in central schemes, including the rural job scheme. “While Rs 500 crore was siphoned-off from the scheme, around Rs 2,700 crore was bungled in another scheme,” she said, adding that with the government neck-deep in corruption, around 4,000 farmers had committed suicide in the state.

Sonia, who made a pointed reference to the money deposit collection scam that rocked the state recently, targeted the chief minister for promoting industrial houses at the cost of farmers. “We gave money for building dams, but the benefit, instead of going to the farmers, is being cornered by the industries,” she said.

The Gujarat strongman also took aim at the Naveen government, even targeting the chief minister’s poor Odia. “For 15 years you have tolerated a corrupt government and a man, who does not know your language. It’s time for change,” he said, urging the crowd to give him just 60 months at the helm and see the difference he makes.