AMETHI, India (Reuters) - Indian opposition challenger Narendra Modi, riding a wave of popular anger against the ruling Congress party, took his battle to the Gandhi citadel on Monday, telling voters it was time to send the dynasty packing for its broken promises.
Modi, in the final leg of a mammoth general election, took his campaign to the seat of Congress heir apparent Rahul Gandhi, breaking a tradition in which top politicians stay off each other’s home turf.
Such has been the intensity of the campaign and the hostility between Modi and the Gandhis that he did not spare even Rahul’s father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1991.
“In 60 years, three generations have been wasted here. This family has destroyed your dreams. I have come to fulfill your dream,” the prime ministerial candidate of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) told a large crowd.
Opinion polls show the BJP and its allies taking the largest share of seats in the five-week election. Congress, in power for the past decade, faces its worst defeat.
Rahul Gandhi, the party’s campaign ‘face’, has been ineffectual on the stump and it has fallen to his sister Priyanka to lead late efforts to defend the family’s seats in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh that vote on Wednesday.
“I know this is a difficult time for a mother,” said the 63-year-old Modi, mocking Rahul as a mama’s boy of his Italian-born mother Sonia, the president of the Congress party.
“This mother has suffered for 10 years to get her son ready,” Modi said. “Your hard work is going down the drain and I can understand your troubles.”
Reacting, Priyanka Gandhi said at a separate event in Amethi: “The BJP has insulted my late father in Amethi and people here will never forgive it.”
The Congress party dismissed speculation, however, that Rahul Gandhi would campaign in Varanasi, where Modi is running as a candidate. The holy city on the river Ganges goes to the polls on May 12, the final day of the election.
Modi, campaigning on his economic record as chief minister of the state of Gujarat, sought to drive home his advantage as he seeks a parliamentary majority for the BJP and its allies.
He accused the Gandhis of “looting” the country and allowing Amethi to go to rack and ruin. He vowed to transform the rural constituency in seven months and make it a model for others to follow.
The Gandhis have been running Amethi and adjoining Rae Bareli since the 1960s, winning most elections by virtual walkover against weak opponents. But this time Modi said he had picked a popular television star turned BJP politician to challenge the Gandhis’ domination of the area.
“India is done with this dynasty, India has had them for 60 years. It’s time for the poor, the dispossessed, to rise to the top,” he said.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in a field, most of them young, repeatedly cheered Modi as he spoke. Many wore orange headbands while others waved the saffron flag of the BJP.
To back up Modi’s message, the BJP released a nine-minute video about Amethi that showed emaciated farmers, rutted roads, ruined homes and derelict factories. The party also highlighted poor sanitation, youth unemployment and poverty in the district.
Only 2,000 families out of nearly 70,000 in the constituency had received work under a rural employment guarantee scheme championed by Congress, it said.
Editing by Douglas Busvine