New Delhi: India's ruling Congress party's Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Saturday did a tit-for-tat by campaigning in Narendra Modi's chosen poll battlefield of Varanasi, just days after the main opposition BJP's prime ministerial candidate invaded the Nehru-Gandhi scion's political citadel of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
Gandhi, who is the Congress party's prime ministerial aspirant, held a massive roadshow on a top-open vehicle in Varanasi to drum up support for the Congress candidate, Ajai Rai, and also stopped to garland a statue of freedom fighter Madan Mohan Malviya who founded the Banaras Hindu University, just like Modi did some days back. Later in the day, Gandhi addressed a huge crowd on the outskirts of the holy city, where he targeted 63-year-old Modi directly on the last day of campaigning in the world's largest democracy.
"Modi ji (Mr Modi) please change your poster -- say that you will respect women and stop sending the police or tapping phones of women in Gujarat. Don't give them strength, give a little respect," the 43-year-old son of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi said, referring to "snoopgate" or the spying on a woman by officials in Gujarat, allegedly on orders of the three-time state Chief Minister. Gandhi also hit at Modi's Gujarat model of development "as nothing but growth of a particular industrialist", but said that the Congress would create jobs for the youths of Varanasi if voted to power for the third consecutive five-year term.
The Congress Vice President's roadshow was enough to ruffle feathers of BJP which was earlier denied permission to hold a rally in Varanasi. "Our grievance is the same. Rahul Gandhi can do a roadshow here. Kejriwal can do a roadshow. Akhilesh Yadav can do a roadshow but only Narendra Modi can't do it from Kashi," spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
BJP's leader Arun Jaitley also hit out at the Election Commission for not allowing Modi to hold rallies in Varanasi. "It's a blot on Indian democracy that a prime ministerial candidate was denied opportunity to address his supporters in his own constituency," he said.
The Congress, however, jumped to Rahul's rescue. "Such a roadshow may be new for Modi or Kejriwal but it's nothing new for the Congress party. Those who are saying that it is tit-for-tat politics, they aren't aware that Rahul held a similar rally here in 2004.
The BJP was given the necessary permissions to campaign here too, they made a show out of it unnecessarily," senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad told the media. In fact, Modi had last week campaigned in Amethi, breaking the decades-long tradition of top political leaders refraining from campaigning in each other's constituency. Varanasi, from where anti-graft party chief Arvind Kejriwal is also running for Parliament, goes to polls on May 12, the last of the mammoth nine-phase general elections, which began on April 7, with results due on May 16.
Opinion polls have suggested BJP will form the next government, with Modi as the prime minister, as the Congress is battling anti-incumbency due to its failure to tackle corruption and inflation.