Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah said in Mumbai on Friday the Narendra Modi government was making efforts to reduce fuel prices, including bringing petrol and diesel under the goods and services tax (GST).
Shah addressed a big rally of party workers in Mumbai on the occasion of the BJP’s 38th foundation day. Later, addressing a press conference, Shah said petrol and diesel prices were still lower than those during the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA’s) rule. “The government is trying to reduce the prices. Efforts are on to bring petrol and diesel under the GST,” he said.
At the rally, Shah launched the BJP’s campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. He appealed to party workers to help Prime Minister Modi achieve his dream of building a ‘new India’ by 2022 and put their heart and sinew in ensuring the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) win in the next Lok Sabha polls.
In his 21-minute speech to thousands of party workers, Shah sought to reach out to Dalits and farmers — two sections which have hit the streets in recent months — to give vent to their discontent. Shah also spent significant time ridiculing Congress counterpart Rahul Gandhi, referring to him as “Rahul baba” on at least 10 occasions.
In New Delhi, the PM addressed a BJP parliamentary party meeting, and later interacted with BJP district presidents and BJP workers from five Lok Sabha constituencies via the NaMo app.
Both Shah and Modi spoke at length about the BJP’s outreach towards Dalits. The BJP is nervous after the recent ‘Bharat bandh’ call by Dalit organisations and protests by a half dozen of its own Dalit MPs.
Shah accused the opposition of spreading lies on the issue of reservation after the recent Supreme Court order on the SC/ST prevention of atrocities Act. Shah said the BJP will never scrap the reservation policy, nor allow anyone else to do so. He said BJP workers will spend the night of April 14, the birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar, in 20,000 villages across the country.
The BJP also plans to celebrate the birth anniversary of Dalit icon Jyotiba Phule on April 11, and the PM is slated to open a memorial to Ambedkar in New Delhi on April 13. However, it was Shah’s reference to opposition leaders as dogs, mongoose, cats and snakes that came in for criticism later in the day by opposition parties.
"The countdown for 2019 (polls) has begun. Attempts are being made for opposition unity. When huge floods occur, everything is washed away. Only a vatavriksha (banyan tree) survives and snakes, mongoose, dogs, cats, cheetahs, lions and other animals climb out to save themselves from the rising waters,” he said. “Due to Modi flood, all cats, dogs, snakes and mongoose are getting together to contest polls,” Shah said. The reference was to recent efforts at opposition unity by several regional parties. Later at the press conference, Shah said, “What I meant was political parties having no ideological similarities are coming together out of fear of Modi.”
“Snake and mongoose have nothing in common. Let me take names: Samajwadi Party and BSP, Trinamool Congress and Congress, Chandrababu Naidu and Congress, they have nothing in common and no ideological similarities, but are coming together,” the BJP president said.
Shah recounted the progress the BJP has made, but said the party’s “golden age” will come when it wins in West Bengal and Odisha, and also the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
He said the BJP will win "not on the basis of slogans and hollow promises but on the basis of work done by the Modi government."
Shah also spent a sizeable part of the speech making fun of Rahul Gandhi. He said it was true the BJP lost two recent by-elections (Phulpur and Gorakhpur), but he found it surprising that “Rahul baba” distributed sweets even when his party’s candidates had forfeited their security deposit. "I was listening to Rahul baba (Rahul Gandhi). He sits with Pawar sahab (NCP chief Sharad Pawar) nowadays. Pawar sahab has given him some 'injection'," Shah said.
"Rahul baba says the Modi government should give an account of its four years in power. But people ask you (Rahul) the account of four generations of your party's dynastic rule," he said.
At the press conference, and in the context of Telugu Desam Party quitting the NDA, Shah said the number of allies the BJP has had grown since 2014. On Shiv Sena’s threats, Shah said: "They (Sena) are in the government with us now, and it is our strong desire that they remain with us.”
The BJP chief said he spoke about Rahul Gandhi in his speech since Rahul is the Congress president now. Shah said he is a "Hindu Vaishnav", refuting Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's claim that the BJP chief is a Jain.
Shah showcased the BJP’s poor-friendly schemes. "Acche din (better days) have come for those who have benefited due to Modi's welfare schemes. Nine crore (90 million) people got Mudra Bank loans to start businesses," he said.
In New Delhi, Modi told BJP MPs that the opposition to him was turning "increasingly violent" as it couldn’t digest the fact that people born among backward castes were in the country's top positions. He said the BJP, long considered a 'Brahmin-Baniya' party, had made a Dalit India's president.