India Election 2014: No blow too low as fight for votes gets personal

India Election 2014: No blow too low as fight for votes gets personal
Businessman Robert Vadra (left), husband of Ms Priyanka Gandhi (right), has been accused of dodgy dealings.

NEW DELHI - The Indian election campaign has become increasingly personal as the battle for votes grows more vicious.

One of the latest targets is businessman Robert Vadra, the brother-in-law of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

Mr Vadra came under renewed attack in recent days by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for questionable land deals.

The BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi tartly branded Mr Vadra, husband of Mr Gandhi's sister Priyanka, a "magician", for his miraculous ability to multiply his wealth - seemingly out of nowhere.

Mr Vadra has rejected, as in the past, that the deals made were illegal.

"You heard about 2G, now hear about Jijaji (brother-in-law)," said Mr Modi at a Sunday rally, in a reference to a telco licence scam involving a former Cabinet minister in the Congress-led government.

Meanwhile, Aam Aadmi leader Arvind Kejriwal has accused both Congress and the BJP of favouring Mr Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man.

As the nine-stage general election moves past its halfway mark, with results to be announced on May 16, rival party leaders have taken digs at each other to a degree that some observers say is unprecedented.

Mr Sudhir Panwar, a Uttar Pradesh-based political analyst, attributes this to the intensely personality-driven nature of this year's election, triggered in part by the BJP's aim to turn it into a US presidential-type battle between Mr Modi and Mr Gandhi.

Dr N. Bhaskara Rao, of the Centre for Media Studies in Delhi, said the name-calling and personal barbs are being amplified by heightened media coverage of the polls, including live television broadcast of the rallies.

Mr Gandhi, who only last month told reporters that he was against making personal comments about opposition leaders, has joined the fray.

Last week, he took a potshot at Mr Modi after the latter admitted publicly that he was actually married at 17 but was separated from his wife after three years of marriage.

"For the first time he has written he is married... and they talk about respecting women," said Mr Gandhi, sniping at the BJP.

It was a jibe that drew a counter-attack from the Shiv Sena party, a BJP ally, which told the Congress leader to get married first before claiming the right to comment on Mr Modi's marital status.

Corporate leaders are also considered fair game in this battle.

Mr Gandhi has accused Mr Gautam Adani, a businessman considered close to Mr Modi, of getting lucrative land deals at throwaway prices in Gujarat, a charge Mr Adani has denied.

In the case of the Gandhis, it has come to the point where even cousins are trading insults over long-standing grievances.

Ms Priyanka Gandhi recently accused her estranged cousin, Mr Varun Gandhi, of letting down the family by going over to the side of the BJP.

"I would not have forgiven my child, if he did something like this," she said of her cousin, who is the son of Sanjay and Maneka Gandhi.

Mr Varun Gandhi joined the BJP in 2004.

His mother Maneka had quit the Gandhi home years earlier after a bitter falling out with her mother-in-law, Indira.

gnirmala@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 22 in The Straits Times.

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