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Ahmedabad: Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra waves to her supporters during a rally at Adalaj, 30 kilometres from Ahmedabad.—AFP
Ahmedabad: Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra waves to her supporters during a rally at Adalaj, 30 kilometres from Ahmedabad.—AFP

NEW DELHI: Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi changed the discourse of the Indian elections on Tuesday from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s militant nationalism to a self-assured democracy at peace with itself in which women were secure and people aware that the best weapon to gain their rights was their power of vote.

Addressing her first rally in the home state of Mr Modi after assuming charge as Congress general secretary, Priyanka Gandhi took a direct dig at the prime minister, asking what happened to the promise of depositing Rs 15 lakh into every citizen’s bank account and pledges about women’s safety.

Addressing a public rally in Gandhinagar with Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi by her side, Ms Gandhi said the present situation in the country was sad and asked the crowd to raise the correct questions in the elections and not frivolous issues.

Sitting under a tree at the Sabarmati Ashram from where Mahatma Gandhi launched his campaign against foreign rule, her eyes welled up with thoughts of the people who sacrificed everything for the nation built on love and harmony, she said.

She then targeted Mr Modi. “The people who made tall claims in 2014, ask them about the Rs 15 lakh that was to be deposited into your account. Ask them about the promises they made about women security and about employment,” Ms Gandhi, who has been given charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, said.

In 2014, Mr Modi, while campaigning for the Lok Sabha election, promised to bring back black money from abroad to India and deposit Rs15 lakh from it into every citizen’s bank account. The promise has provided the opposition with fodder to target the government.

Ms Gandhi said the main issues on which the elections would be fought are women security, employment, and agrarian crisis. “Issues which should be raised must focus on how can you move forward. How will the youth get jobs, how will women feel safe, what will be done for farmers. These are the issues for elections,” she said.

She completely ignored the televised drumbeats of arm chair generals demanding war on Pakistan.

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, kicking off the party’s campaign from Gandhinagar turned the tables on Mr Modi’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, asking them to

explain the circumstances in which Jaish e Mohammed chef Masood Azhar was released from Indian jails as part of a deal with the hijackers of an Indian Airlines plane.

“Who sent Pulwama terror attack perpetrator Masood Azhar to Pakistan?” he asked the crowd. “Masood Azhar was sent in a special aircraft and NSA Ajit Doval accompanied him,” Mr Gandhi said.

“On the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi Ji’s historic Dandi March, the Congress Working Committee in Ahmedabad resolved to defeat the RSS/ BJP ideology of fascism, hatred, anger, and divisiveness. No sacrifice is too great in this endeavor; no effort too little; this battle will be won,” Mr Gandhi said.

But the promise of sacrifice appeared to elude a viable alliance with other opposition parties. Dalit leader Maywati on Tuesday said her party would not join hands with the

Congress in any state. Her reaction followed news reports that the Congress had poached her party leaders in the Madhya Pradesh state.

Priyanka Gandhi, who was appointed the general secretary and in-charge of Uttar Pradesh East on January 23, has held a series of meetings with party workers but had so far not addressed any public gathering. Till now, her public presence was limited to the roadshow she held along with Rahul Gandhi on February 11.

“This country is made on the foundations of love, harmony, and brotherhood. Today whatever is happening in the country is very sad. You will have to think about what are you going to choose in this election? You are going to choose your future. Useless issues should not be raised,” she said amid applause from the crowd.

Earlier in the day she also attended the Congress Working Committee meeting in Ahmedabad, which resolved to defeat the RSS/ BJP ideology of fascism, hatred, anger, and divisiveness.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2019