New Delhi: Controversy hit the last day of campaigning in Gujarat with questions being raised about a possible breach of security protocol over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s seaplane ride that the PM had planned as an impressive finale to his election campaign in his home state.
Soon after Mr Modi took off from Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad, and touched down at the Dharoi dam in Mehsana district, covering a distance of 180 km in 35 minutes, Opposition parties, including National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi, took pot-shots at the PM over his seaplane ride.
The former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister took to Twitter to ask why security guidelines were relaxed for Mr Modi. “How is it that the security guidelines were relaxed for this flight? No Z+ protectee is allowed to fly in a single engine aircraft, much less the PM of our country,” he asked.
Sources in the civil aviation ministry said the single-engine seaplane used by Mr Modi on Tuesday belongs to a Japanese company Setouchi Holdings and was used by low cost carrier SpiceJet to carry out seaplane trials last Saturday at Mumbai’s Girgaum Chowpatty. The security rule-book says the Prime Minister can only fly in twin or multi-engine aircraft.
Congress president-elect Mr Gandhi said there was nothing wrong if Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted to fly in a seaplane, but it was a mere distraction from the fact that the BJP had done little for the people of Gujarat in the last 22 years. Mr Modi and chief minister Vijay Rupani had initiated one-sided development in Gujarat for the benefit five-ten people, he charged.
The Prime Minister had announced the seaplane ride from Sabarmati to Ambaji temple at a campaign rally on Monday. It was planned after his Tuesday roadshow in Ahmedabad was cancelled.
The plane ride was also meant to draw attention to the development work being done by the BJP, which is seeking a fifth straight term in power in Gujarat. The Congress’ campaign in the state has focussed on calling the Gujarat model of development a failure.
“Tomorrow for the first time in the history of the country a seaplane will land on the Sabarmati river. I will go to Ambaji in the seaplane after landing in Dharoi dam and come back,” Mr Modi had said on Monday, and added, “We cannot have airports everywhere, so our government has planned to have these seaplanes”.
Later he tweeted, “With air, roads and rail connectivity, our government is making efforts for harnessing waterways. All this is for 125 crore Indians… The transformation across Gujarat is for everyone to see. Sadly, Congress’ notion of development is making a quick buck and that is why they are unable to see any change for the better.”
A special floating platform was constructed on Sabarmati river for the PM to board the plane which took off from the Sardar Bridge-end amid sloganeering from BJP workers. After his plane landed on the water of Dharoi dam, Mr Modi proceeded by road to Ambaji temple in Banaskantha district where he performed puja and offered prayers.
The Prime Minister closed his campaign by taking to Twitter to invoke Gujarati pride.
“I call upon the people of Gujarat to not only give the BJP an overwhelming majority, but also ensure that BJP wins in every polling booth across the state,” he tweeted.
Charging the Opposition with spreading unimaginable lies about “Gujarat, Gujarat’s growth and about me personally,” he asked people to respond to the “negativity and lies” in a fitting manner. “It is natural for every Gujarati to feel hurt” by the alleged falsehoods, he added.
Exuding confidence, Mr Modi said, “With the Government of India and Government of Gujarat working together, the strength rises manifold. This 1+ 1 is not 2 but 11 and together we will take Gujarat to new heights”.