Raipur (Chhattisgarh): Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday hit back at Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the centre’s demonetization initiative, as he launched the party’s campaign for the second phase of elections in Chhattisgarh.

The demonetization programme was Modi’s scheme to take away small domestic savings of the poor and hand those over to his “big corporate friends like Anil Ambani and Nirav Modi", Gandhi said at a public meeting at Mahasamund in central Chhattisgarh in reaction to the Prime Minister’s barb on Monday when Modi said at Bilaspur that demonetization was carried out to dig out “big cash stashed away under beds and pillows" of some people.

Modi had even referred to Rahul and Sonia Gandhi as “people who were out on bail and who were giving out certificates of honesty to others".

The cash ban did take away cash from people but “these were small cash and domestic savings that the poor people had collected and kept under their beds and pillows", said the Congress president, who is on a two-day visit to Chhattisgarh where the party is trying to dethrone the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled for 15 years.

There is a silent wave in favour of the Congress in the state and the people are desperate for change, Gandhi told reporters at Raipur airport.

All India Congress Committee chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the party will win 15 of the 18 seats that went to polls in the first phase on 12 November. Even chief minister Raman Singh will lose from Rajnandgaon, he said. “Chhattisgarh is going to throw up some stunning results and even Raman Singhji would be sent home by the people of Rajnandgaon," he said.

The Congress spokesperson described notebandi as the “biggest fraud in the history of independent India" and accused the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh of purchasing large tracts of prime land across the country just before demonetization was announced. Surjewala cited the report of the Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy and said 1.5 million people lost their jobs because of demonetization and the national economy suffered losses worth 3 trillion.

Gandhi attacked Modi for his “silence" on the agrarian distress in the country and in Chhattisgarh, and claimed that the Prime Minister had written off corporate loans worth 3 trillion, but had not done so for farmers. The Congress president reiterated his promise to waive farm loans if the party came to power in Chhattisgarh. The party has made similar promises in Madhya Pradesh as well.

The Congress president also addressed public meetings at Bilaspur and Korba. The remaining 72 seats in Chhattisgarh go to polls in the second and last phase on 20 November.

The chief electoral officer of Chhattisgarh said on Tuesday that the first phase witnessed record turnout of 76.28%, beating the previous high of 75.83% in 2013.

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