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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 April 2019

India elections: Main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi files nomination

Congress party leader met by crowds of supporters in family stronghold, and repeats allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination for India’s election on Tuesday, using the platform to repeat allegations of corruption against current prime minister, Narendra Modi.

With six weeks of general election voting set to begin on Thursday, Mr Gandhi was in Amethi, a town in northern India, to sign the necessary papers to represent the constituency for the fourth time.

Speaking to reporters, who are predicting a close contest in a region traditionally loyal to the Congress Party, Mr Gandhi accused Mr Modi of theft and invited him to discuss the matter publicly with him.

“I’m challenging Mr Modi to a debate,” said Mr Gandhi.

“Come debate with me anywhere on corruption, on demonetisation. I am ready for a debate anywhere,” he said.

In 2017, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party enacted a demonetisation policy, scrapping high-value bank notes in an attempt to curb the black market. It had limited success in preventing crime, and instead badly affected the poor, who rely on cash, and the economy.

The opposition leader also referred to Mr Modi as a “thief”, in reference to calls last year for an investigation into a US$8.7 billion (Dh32bn) fighter jet deal that was run through a local partner with no prior experience in the aeronautical industry.

The government were accused of pressuring French company Dassault Aviation to choose a firm owned by billionaire Anil Ambani over the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics, which had a proven record of manufacturing military aircraft. It was claimed that Mr Modi had then overpaid for the jets.

Recent opinion polls in India have indicated the ruling BJP are likely to return to power, but with a reduced majority. Twenty parties, including the Congress party, have come together to take on the BJP as part of a mega alliance at the national level, but due to a lack of planning and co-ordination, their candidates will fight each and split the vote, in fact giving a boost to the BJP.

Votes will not be counted until May 23 and early results will be expected by 12pm that day.

Mr Gandhi’s mother, Sonia, sister, Priyanka, and her two children accompanied him to Amethi, putting up a united front against Smriti Irani, a textile minister who is also running for the BJP.

Rahul Gandhi, president of India's main opposition Congress party, arrives to file his nomination papers for the general election. Reuters
Rahul Gandhi, president of India's main opposition Congress party, arrives to file his nomination papers for the general election. Reuters

This is Ms Irani’s second attempt to dethrone Mr Gandhi — she lost by a margin of 107,000 votes in the 2014 general elections in Amethi. The town is a traditional stronghold for the Gandhi family with both his parents, including father, Rajiv, who is a former prime minister, having also been previously elected there. The Congress party has only lost in the town at one election in the last three decades.

Upon arrival in the town, the Congress party leader was greeted by supporters who surrounded his lorry and showered the family with rose petals, shouting “Long live Rahul, the nation’s prime minister”.

He has represented the town for 15 years and has support of the like that is unlikely to be reflected in the rest of the country, where the votes for his party are expected to decline after several defections to other parties, including the BJP.

For the first time this year, Mr Gandhi will also contest from a second seat in Wayanad, a safe seat in Kerala, to widen his chances of election. The move is being portrayed by the BJP as a betrayal of the people of Amethi, who have had stood by the family for decades but have not seen the infrastructure development they need.

Supporters turn out to see Congress president Rahul Gandhi in family stronghold Amethi. Jitendra Prakash for The National
Supporters turn out to see Congress president Rahul Gandhi in family stronghold Amethi. Jitendra Prakash for The National

“The people of Amethi will not tolerate this. It is an insult to Amethi,” opponent Ms Irani said, although other Indian leaders, including Mr Modi, have previously contested from two seats.

Babul Singh, a youth leader, insisted that the town’s people were not upset with Mr Gandhi for his choice to also stand in another city.

“The BJP is trying to create confusion when they say that there needs to be more development. People find employment in Amethi, there is good education and health care,” he said.

“India is one big country. So what if he goes to Wayanad? Now it will be a contest between Wayanad and Amethi to see who gives him more votes.”

Updated: April 10, 2019 10:03 PM

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