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Modi plays caste card with Priyanka barb

Lucknow, May 6: Narendra Modi today turned Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s attack on him for “neech rajneeti” (low-level politics) into an “insult of lower castes”, once again playing the caste card that he has repeatedly flashed in this campaign.

“What is our crime? How dare they brand us lowly?” the BJP mascot asked at a rally in Domariyaganj in Uttar Pradesh. “Go on, you are free to insult Modi as much as you want to. Hang him, if you can. But do not dare to insult the lower castes,” Modi warned.

Yesterday, Priyanka had hit out at Modi after he alleged that Rajiv Gandhi had once insulted a Congress chief minister.

“They have insulted my martyred father on Amethi’s soil. Amethi’s people will never forgive this. My polling booth workers will give the answer to their low-level politics (neech rajneeti). The answer will come from every booth in Amethi,” Priyanka had said.

There was no reference to caste in her statement, but Modi seized on the word “neech” that is also sometimes used pejoratively to describe the lower castes. In past elections in Gujarat, Modi has equated attacks on him with attacks on the state’s pride.

Modi was in Domariyaganj, 204km northeast of Lucknow, to campaign for former Congress MP Jagdambika Pal, who is now contesting on a BJP ticket. Pal, also a former Congress state unit president who joined the BJP in March, was by Modi’s side when he attacked Priyanka.

Modi continued to play the victim, saying: “I was insulted and humiliated, and called a tea seller as if I had committed a crime. Doubts were raised about my ability to be a leader who can run the country.”

“People from the lower castes have long been looked down upon and pushed to the fence as ‘outsiders’,” he said.

Modi has in his prime ministerial campaign repeatedly drawn attention to his humble roots, claiming that as a boy he sold tea and that he was born into a backward caste family. Even within BJP circles few knew about his “tea seller” background and while it was known in the party that he was born into an OBC family, it is only at a public meeting in Jhansi last year that Modi projected himself as a lower caste leader.

“Is it a crime to be born in a backward caste? .Is the fact of being born in backward caste an offence to anyone?” he said today. “Can EC take action against this attack on me? I don't know. Unki majboori unhe mubarak. (They have their compulsions.)”

The BJP mascot also repeated the story about Rajiv Gandhi insulting the chief minister T. Anjaiah, in an effort to turn the tables on Rahul Gandhi who says Modi represents the “politics of anger”.

This is not the first time an Opposition leader has raised the Anjaiah issue — Telugu Desam Party founder N.T. Rama Rao had built a campaign around it in the mid-eighties. But Congress leaders said Modi was raising the issue out of context to demean the children of the slain former Prime Minister.

“Like N.T. Rama Rao who built a Telugu pride issue, Narendra Modi cleverly tried today to build politics of lower caste out of the sentiment that Priyanka Gandhi expressed in Amethi,” said Ramesh Dikshit, a professor of political science in Lucknow University.

But Rahul, who was in Mirzapur today campaigning in the constituency that once elected dacoit-turned-politician Phoolan Devi, stuck to his script. “You have been listening to Congress leaders’ speeches. We never abuse anyone; don’t show anger. But just hear out our Opposition leaders. Their hearts are filled with anger. We go to people with bowed heads, respect them, listen to them and make policies after getting their ideas. But the BJP thinks people have no power.”

“They (the BJP) have two faces. Here they talk about development in Uttar Pradesh. But when people from north India reach Gujarat, they are driven away from that state,” Rahul said.