Tests for Modi, Sonia
The stage was set yesterday for the seventh phase of polling in India's long national elections today. The voting will decide the fate of stalwarts like the BJP's Narendra Modi and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
The campaign for the seventh phase ended with a nasty war of words that had pitted Modi on one side against all his rivals across the political spectrum on the other.
As the bare-knuckle battle for wooing the electorate intensified, Modi found himself under attack from all sides, from Rahul Gandhi, his mother Sonia Gandhi and their ally Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference as also West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
As if the war of attrition were not enough, the campaign included a "video war", with the BJP releasing footage purportedly detailing the alleged real estate deals of Sonia's son-in-law Robert Vadra.
The Congress, however, came out with a compact disc purportedly containing photographs of Modi with one Afroz Phatta, a diamond trader who was recently arrested for his alleged involvement in illegal money transactions.
The BJP responded by posting on the website a photo purportedly featuring Phatta and Congress lawmaker Mohd Azharuddin, the former Indian cricket captain.
Congress had trashed allegations against Vadra and said the BJP felt "nervous" at Priyanka Gandhi's campaigning.
The seventh phase will see polling in 89 constituencies across seven states, including all 26 seats in Gujarat, whose chief minister is Modi, 13 in Punjab, 17 in the proposed new state of Telangana and two federally-administered territories, with a total of over 1,000 candidates in the fray.
While Modi is in fray in the seventh phase from Vadodara constituency in Gujarat, Sonia Gandhi is seeking re-election from Rae Bareli constituency in Uttar Pradesh state, where Priyanka Gandhi took up the cudgels on her mother's behalf.
The electoral fate of BJP patriarch L K Advani and BJP President Rajnath Singh will also be decided in today's round of polling in Lucknow, capital city of Uttar Pradesh, and Gandhinagar city of Gujarat.
Other prominent leaders who are in the fray in the seventh phase are federal minister Farooq Abdullah from Srinagar, BJP veterans Murli Manohar Joshi in Kanpur and Janata Dal President Sharad Yadav from Madhepura in Bihar state.
Polling has already been held in 349 of the altogether 543 Lok Sabha constituencies since April 10 before two rounds of voting are held in the eighth and ninth and final lap on May 12, four days before the votes are counted.
Mocking Rahul Gandhi, Modi dubbed the Congress vice-president as a specimen for his "little knowledge" of Gujarat.
Addressing a rally in Kheralu in Gujarat, Modi said Gandhi's claim of vast job vacancies and lokayukta smacked of ignorance, and was short on facts. His speeches were good stress-busters, he said.
Rahul hit back with force, questioning Modi's ties with the leading industrial house Adani Group and alleging Modi government in Gujarat handed over land worth thousands of crores of rupees at throw-away prices to the industrial group.
While the BJP ridiculed Rahul's frequent visits to socially backward caste homes and having food there, the latter asked whether it was wrong to ask Dalits about their problems and wrong to meet or hug them.
A day after Farooq Abdullah said Kashmir would not be part of a "communal India" and those voting for Modi should drown in the sea. Modi hit back by alleging the biggest blow to secularism in India was delivered in Kashmir by the Abdullah family when Kashmiri Hindus were forced out of the state due to their religion.
Modi also charged Farooq's son and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and the latter's grandfather Sheikh Abdullah of communalising Kashmir for political gains.
Omar took on Modi by accusing him of twisting history and dared him to visit Kashmir and seek votes.
Unleashing a vicious attack on Modi, who questioned the "big money" fetched by her paintings, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee labelled the BJP's PM nominee a "devil and a bloodthirsty rioter" and "butcher" of Gujarat, referring to the riots that left more than 1,000 dead, mostly Muslims, in the western state 12 years ago.
The country would be "ruined" if Modi came to power in India and the "architect" of the Gujarat riots would drench Bengal in an "ocean of blood" after drenching Gujarat "in a river of blood", she alleged in Kolkata on Monday evening.
The Mamata-led Trinamool Congress party demanded a public apology from Modi for doubting the integrity of Banerjee.
On Modi's allegation she was indulging in vote-bank politics ignoring non-Bengalis and laying on the red carpet for Bangladeshis, Banerjee said he [Modi] did not know history.
"He is polarising Bengalis and non-Bengalis. After shedding blood in Gujarat, does he want to unleash bloodbath in Bengal...," Mamata asked.