Mumbai: Under fire, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday launched a counter offensive against Congress and NCP on ceasefire violations by Pakistan, saying such issues should not be dragged into political discourse as he hauled them over the coals over corruption in Maharashtra.
NCP boss and former Defence Minister Sharad Pawar was the butt of Modi's criticism as he continued to hit the campaign trail for Maharashtra Assembly poll with a vengeance despite being dubbed an "absentee" Prime Minister by Congress.
"When you were the defence minister, there were problems with Pakistan and China on the border. Did you ever bother to go to the border then?"
"There have been terror strikes in Maharashtra during your tenure... Mumbai, Malegaon, Pune. You could not even reach the terrorists, leave alone catching them. In the spirit of patriotism, we never politicised the issue," he told an election rally at Baramati, Pawar's pocket borough.
At his rally in Mumbai, his second in six days, Modi again
targeted the Pawars, saying, "The musclemen politicians, uncle-nephew duo... All will be wiped out in the election."
"There is anger after oppression and today I see that anger on every face. Mahatma Gandhi gave the call for total freedom from this land. I ask you today for giving us total majority," he said.
Referring to his criticism for frequently invoking Maratha king Shivaji during his election speeches, Modi said, "In this election, parties are squabbling over Chhatrapati Shivaji. Shivaji belongs to everybody, to every generation. He has eternal greatness."
"I ask Sharad Rao (Pawar) if you have great love for Shivaji, why didn't you build a magnificent memorial to him? Why you remember him only during elections? Today, people are crying for a memorial to Babasaheb Ambedkar. Cannot we do this for the man who gave us Constitution," he asked.
Modi has been criticised by former ally Shiv Sena for trying to appropriate its enduring icon despite not even once celebrating his birth anniversary.
The Prime Minister said all previous equations based on caste and creed were on the death bed and soon there will be no place for vote bank politics.
"Development is the solution to all problems and the country is ready to walk the path of development, soon all old equations will be dead," he said.
"Press the button in front of BJP's election symbol lotus and rid Maharashtra of the 15 year rule of the demons," he said.
Modi reminded the Opposition that BJP had desisted from politicising the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.
He also said, at his Mumbai rally, that his government was working with determination to curb inflation.
"Opposition parties are asking us whether inflation level went down after we came to power. Have prices of petrol and diesel gone down or not?... It (the inflation) will only go down now," he said.
He assured that Mumbai will get the country's most hi-tech metro rail once the BJP comes to power in the state. "Mumbai is the financial capital of the country. Why can't we dream of making it the financial capital of the world," he asked.
Modi also said that India has to be made a cleaner destination to increase the inflow of tourists, which will enhance the GDP.
Earlier, at a rally in Pimpri near Pune, he appealed to the people to vote for "skilled Maharashtra" rather than "scam Maharashtra".
Pune and Mumbai were the growth engines of the whole country, he said.
Modi was responding to Pawar's criticism for holding a string of election meetings despite the tension on the border following repeated ceasefire violations by Pakistan that have caused civilian casualties.
"Today, when bullets are being fired on the border, it is the enemy that is screaming. Our jawans have responded to the aggression with courage," he said, adding "the enemy has realised that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated."
Deprecating a political discourse over ceasefire violations, he said, "Such an issue should not be part of a political debate... Elections will come and go, governments will come and go, but please don't demoralise those fighting on the border by debating these things for political gains."
Seeking to turn the tables on the Opposition over its criticism of the government for handling the situation on the border, Modi again raised the issue at a poll rally in Mumbai, saying, "I am astonished by their nonsensical statements and they want me to respond.
"You tell me, should I respond. Should the PM respond to this. The jawan standing on the border is responding with his hand on the trigger. There will not come a time when the PM has to respond, this is the strength of my government," he said.
"Never be fooled by attempts to create confusion on this issue. Your trust is my strength," the Prime Minister said amid chants of "Modi! Modi".
Pawar and his nephew Ajit, Maharashtra's former Deputy Chief Minister, were in the line of Modi's fire again when he raked up an embarrassing episode involving the latter that could prove damaging during the election.
"Don't you remember what he (Ajit Pawar) told you when you asked for water? It was only water you had asked for. It is unthinkable that such people become ministers, my head hangs in shame.
"They have no right to ask for votes. It is a matter of your prestige now. Throw them out," Modi said referring to Ajit Pawar's unseemly comment about a fasting farmer demanding water in the drought-prone region.
Ajit Pawar, while ridiculing a farmer fasting for water had said at Indapur a few months ago, "He has been fasting for the last 55 days. If there is no water in the dam, how can we release it? Should we urinate into it? If there is no water to drink, even urination is not possible."
Equating Pawar family's grip over Baramati to slavery, Modi said, "The nation became independent but Baramati is still yoked to slavery. Be it for job or water for farms, people have to seek permission from the uncle-nephew duo. Farmers cannot even sell their sugarcane crop without their nod."
"Gandhiji shook the British empire with a handful of salt at Dandi. You don't have to even use your fist to get freedom. What you need is a finger to press on BJP's lotus symbol and freedom will be yours," he said.
Modi said NCP's election symbol clock symbolised their misdeeds.
"NCP's clock (party symbol) is actually an eye opener. If you observe it closely you will find the clock is stuck at 10. It tells us that in 10 years corruption has grown 10 times during their rule. Such politicians have no place in Maharashtra politics," he said.
While Ajit Pawar is a sitting MLA from Baramati, Sharad Pawar won the seat five times in a row from 1991 to 2009 when he handed over the baton to his daughter Supriya Sule, who won the seat twice in 2009 and 2014.