NEW DELHI : Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Congress president Rahul Gandhi hit the campaign trail on Sunday in election-bound Maharashtra, just a week ahead of assembly elections in the state.

The pre-poll alliance of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is taking on an electorally resurgent alliance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena under the leadership of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in the state. Maharashtra, along with Haryana, goes to polls on 21 October with counting set to take place on 24 October.

This is the first set of assembly elections since the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), spearheaded by the BJP, returned to power with a historic victory in Lok Sabha elections earlier this year.

On Sunday, Modi accused the Congress-NCP combine of speaking the language of Pakistan on the abrogation of provisions of Article 370, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The two parties should promise in their manifesto to bring back Articles 370 and 35A if they come to power, as they do not support their abrogation, Modi said at a public meeting in Jalgaon.

Gandhi, meanwhile, argued that this was being highlighted by the BJP to draw attention away from issues such as unemployment and rural distress.

“The Congress and the NCP did not support the decision and spoke the language that went against the mood of the people and country. They speak the language of neighbours. They are not standing with the decision of the country. The abnormal situation in Jammu and Kashmir continued for 40 years but I can assure the country that it will take less than four months to normalize the situation in the state," Modi said at the rally.

The two Opposition parties should “stop shedding crocodile tears" and if they have the courage they should take a clear stand on Jammu and Kashmir, he said.

The withdrawal of special status to Jammu and Kashmir would help end terrorism and separatism, Modi said.

Gandhi hit the campaign trail on Sunday, after nearly five months, with a rally in Maharashtra’s Latur where he took on the BJP primarily on unemployment and rural distress. He also said that issues such as Kashmir, abrogation of Article 370 and moon missions are being used in the political campaign to draw attention away from bigger problems.

“If you ask anyone in the country what the two main problems right now are they will say issues related to farmers and unemployment. The aim of demonetization and the roll out of the goods and services tax (GST) was to take out money from the pockets of poor people. You will not find a single small trader who has not been affected by these two things," Gandhi said in Latur’s Ausa.

“During elections, they talk about (abrogating) Article 370, Kashmir and moon (missions) but they will not open their mouth on the real issues. It is an idea which they think will give them political benefits by diverting attention," Rahul Gandhi said. “The Congress founded Isro (Indian Space Research Organisation). Rockets are not sent in two days, but of course Narendra Modi is taking credit for it," he said.

The former Congress president addressed two more rallies later in the day in Maharashtra. Sonia Gandhi, who has again become Congress president after Rahul Gandhi stepped down from the post, is yet to address a rally in these polls.

gyan.v@livemint.com


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