The Telegraph
Friday , March 28 , 2014
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Caste query to Modi

New Delhi, March 27: Chai-wallah beware! A chali-wallah is itching to beat you.

Rahul Gandhi confidant and Congress candidate from Vadodara Madhusudan Mistry today described himself as a “chali-wallah” (slum dweller) to counter BJP mascot Narendra Modi’s careful projection of his humble background as a tea seller who dreamt big.

“I was born in a slum,” Mistry declared, offering his credentials for the contest.

“Let there be a fight between chai-wallah and chali-wallah,” he thundered, exuding confidence, though he would have preferred a level-playing field. “Why is he not resigning as chief minister? And what chai-wallah, he is the face of the corporate, big houses are behind him. He does not represent the poor, he has turned Gujarat a haven for a few people,” the Congress general secretary alleged.

If Modi, who claims he once worked as a tea-stall boy, has outgrown his humble background, Mistry too used the slum symbolism as an electoral gimmick. Having studied at Oxford and Boston, being in Parliament twice and holding a top organisational post in the biggest party of the world, his humble origin matters as little today as Modi’s childhood.

Mistry, however, insists he has remained a common man while “Modi became a corporate agent”.

Mistry, who is leaving Delhi tonight to fight his “dream election” in Vadodara, was angry at Modi for raking up the caste issue and wondered if “a person desiring to occupy the top post in the country should take shelter in caste-ism”.

Modi had yesterday said at a rally in Delhi that Narendra Rawat, whom the Congress had earlier announced as its candidate from Vadodara, had been replaced because he was a Dalit.

Mistry described this as a “cheap gimmick” though Rahul too has often talked about his visits to Dalit homes.

Top leaders of other parties, such as Sharad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati, also never miss an opportunity to play caste politics.

At a recent rally in Uttar Pradesh, Rahul was described as a “Pandit” by Congress leaders.

But so exercised was Mistry that he said: “If he has resorted to this shallowness by saying that the candidate was removed because he was a Dalit, I ask Modi to declare what caste he comes from. Let the nation know Modi’s caste.”

It was surprising why Mistry harped on Modi’s caste in front of cameras. Many leaders wondered whether the Congress was trying to make caste a bigger factor in this election to suppress the so-called Modi wave?

This may be a ploy to lure away Brahmins from the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. If that happens, the Congress and parties like Mulayam’s Samajwadi and Mayawati’s BSP would reap a bigger harvest in the heartland state that can make or mar Modi’s prospects. The Congress and the Samajwadi Party have both accused the BJP of victimising Brahmin leaders in Uttar Pradesh.

Modi has stressed on his background as a tea seller and the BJP has talked about his OBC status but there is no mention of his specific caste in the political discourse. Mistry may himself be resorting to caste politics, an allegation he levelled against Modi. He also dared Modi to a debate, saying: “I know his mind. He fears being exposed. That’s why he doesn’t face the media.”

The Congress too made a scathing attack on Modi today, saying the language used by him in Jammu yesterday was befitting of a traitor, not a national leader aspiring to become the Prime Minister.

Spokesperson Sanjay Jha said: “Modi said the ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ slogan had become ‘Mar Jawan, Mar Kisan’ in the Congress regime. Who wants our soldiers and farmers to die? Then he said AK 47, A.K. Antony and AK 49 were helping Pakistan. This is an insult to the defence minister of the country and Arvind Kejriwal.”

The Aam Aadmi Party leader had quit as Delhi chief minister after 49 days in office.