With the dates for the assembly election expected to be announced by next week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday addressed what his party called a "maha rally" in Lucknow and denounced the Akhilesh Yadav regime for not spending the Rs 2.5 lakh crore given by the central government for Uttar Pradesh's development.
Although he claimed to put development above casteism to emphasise that the development of UP was pivotal to the progress of the country, the prime minister reached out to the Dalit voters by eulogising BR Ambedkar as an economist and the "father" of the Reserve Bank of India.
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He must have had to exercise restraint in view of the Supreme Court's order Monday banning mention of caste and religion in election speeches.
Modi saluted Ambedkar and Ramabai, after whom the rally venue is named, and asked why it worried some (read Mayawati) if he chose to name a mobile app Bhim. "Naming the application Bhim is the best tribute one could have paid to Babasaheb Ambedkar," he said.
Despite the thrust of his speech being Mayawati's vote bank, Modi asked the voters to rise above caste politics and nepotism, which he claimed they have tested for so many years, and vote for progress.
Seated on the dais with Modi and the BJP president Amit Shah was Lucknow MP and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who was supposed to be projected as the chief ministerial candidate, reportedly against his wishes. According to sources in the BJP, a formal announcement about his candidature could be made after the election dates are declared.
About the central grant of Rs 2.5 lakh crore per year to UP, Modi said the money was given to the state over the past two and half years - Rs 1 lakh crore per year - and added, "If the money had been put to good use, UP would have moved to a different level in development."
The prime minister accused the Akhilesh government of adopting an "obstructionist approach" to development. Taking politics to a new low, he alleged, the state government did not cooperative when BJP MPs wanted to implement development programmes in their constituencies.
Development, he said, had been banished from the state for the last 14 years and it was now time to put UP back on the trajectory of progress. "I have the bitter experience of my own constituency, Varanasi, where road repair work was allowed after ascertaining from which person the suggestion has come. I was deeply pained," Modi said, lamenting the "low level of politics".
"Rajneeti me aapke virodh honge lekin agar raasta nahi banta hai to janta pareshaan hotee hai (You may have political differences but if a road is not built it is the people who suffer)," the prime minister added.
The BJP, Modi said, was the only party which was capable of saving UP from this morass. "One party has been trying to install the son in power for the past 15 years and does not seem to be succeeding, another is caught up in a family feud and worried about saving the family, while the third is concerned about parking its money in far flung banks and saving its money," Modi claimed, without naming the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, respectively.
None of these parties, Modi added, was giving even a remote thought to the state's progress.
To ensure the rally's success, the BJP had performed a bhumi poojan at the venue, the Ramabai Rally Sthal, on 31 December. The party was worried it might not be able to get a large crowd enough to fill the huge ground. It was desperate to outnumber the attendance at Mayawati's rallies here.