Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off his campaign for the high-stakes Assam election battle on Saturday, addressing five rallies where he called Assam a “diseased state” and said he could feel “strong winds of change” blowing in the state. He also claimed a deep association with the tea-producing state for having been a chaiwallah once.
Raising the issue of Bangladeshi infiltration, the BJP’s main plank in this election, Modi accused the Congress of encouraging it and promised that Bangladeshis would be sent back if the BJP came to power.
Attacking Tarun Gogoi, who is seeking a fourth term as chief minister, he said, “It is no longer Tarun Gogoi, but Tarun ‘Go, go’!”.
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He added that he was surprised at the Congress leader’s statement that his fight was against Modi.
“How can I fight him (Gogoi)? He is so senior to me and in a few years, he will be 90. He is an elder, I respect him and seek his blessings… My fight is not against Gogoi but against poverty, unemployment, underdevelopment and supersitition,” Modi said.
“Assam is now a diseased state and the root of all disease and trouble is the Congress, which must be uprooted at all costs,” he said. “Sixty years of Congress rule and Assam has come down from among five top states of the country during Independence to five poorest states of the country. Give the BJP just five years, we will put Assam back on the tracks… Seeing the massive turnouts at today’s rallies, and especially seeing the large numbers of women, I can feel the strong winds of change blowing in Assam.”
Modi accused the Congress of protecting and patronising Bangladeshi infiltrators. “The Congress has indulged in enough vote-bank politics. It has given infiltrators everything on a platter while snatching away rights of the Assamese people. Influx has to stop. The right moment has come to free Assam from vote-bank politics. Once the BJP-led government comes, it will not only ensure stop further arrival of Bangladeshis but also ensure these people leave.”
Listing the projects the Centre has launched for Assam, the PM said his agenda was “three-point”.
“It comprises development, speedy development and all-round development. Once this three-point agenda is in place, Assam will see massive transformation from what 15 years of Congress rule have led the state to.” He asked the people to ensure the BJP won by a “two-thirds majority” for this.
Modi, who arrived in Dibrugarh early Saturday morning, addressed his first rally in Tinsukia, followed by Majuli. Union minister and state BJP president Sarbananda Sonowal, who is the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate for Assam, is contesting from Majuli and Modi became the first PM to visit the historically significant island. Modi later addressed rallies at Bihpuria and Bokakhat before attending a senior citizens’ meeting in Jorhat.
Recalling the days he sold tea, Modi said he owed Assam a lot. Trying to strike a chord with tea estate labourers who dominate 16 to 18 constituencies in upper Assam, he added that while tea provides energy to people all over, there were hardly any smiles on labourers’ faces.
At the Majuli rally, Modi accused the Congress of “gulping down” funds meant for development, and said things had reached such a pass that even the Bramaputra had “gulped down” two-thirds of the Majuli island under the Congress. “Two-thirds of the island has disappeared in 60 years of Congress rule. The Congress has no time to do something to save this heritage island that can become India’s most favourite tourist destination,” he said.
Showering praise on Sonowal, the PM said he had come to Assam to return it this “piece of diamond”. “It is a matter of pride for the people of Majuli that they will elect such a piece of diamond who will be the next CM of Assam.”
Accusing Gogoi of squandering Central funds, he added, “Gogoi, who cannot give an account of what he did with funds sent by the Centre in 15 years, has no right to ask what we have done in two years. It is a matter of shame that over 40 per cent of households in Assam don’t even have electricity.”
The state was represented by a prime minister (Manmohan Singh was a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam) for 10 years but now its people have to be reminded that they were represented by a former PM, Modi said.
The PM also questioned the high rates of maternal and infant mortality in the state. “The Gogoi government is least bothered that crimes against women are highest in Assam. Such an insensitive government should go.”
In Bokakhat, where he shared the dais with AGP leader and former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, to campaign for AGP president Atul Bora, the PM accused the Congress of having a hand in rhino poaching in Kaziranga.
“Rhino poachers were given indulgence for political reasons. We will not allow further poaching of rhinos. Time has come for the people to kill rhino poachers. While poachers use guns, you need to just press the right button on voting day.”