One year on, Prime Minister Modi courts India's poor

Reuters News
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Posted: May 25, 2015 11:50 AM

By Rupam Jain Nair

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi told thousands of supporters his government was devoted to the poor on Monday, directly tackling criticism he has governed for the rich and failed farmers in his first year in office.

On the eve of the government's first anniversary Modi traveled south from New Delhi to a region hard hit by crop losses and bad weather to counter opposition jibes that he is losing support of rural areas, home to 70 percent of Indians.

"Every moment of my time and every particle of my body is determined to secure the welfare of the poor," he told a jubilant crowd that waited for hours in sweltering heat in the town of Mathura to hear the speech.

Distress among farmers suffering from lower commodity prices and damage caused by early rains has weakened Modi's support in parts of the rural north, including around Mathura where at least two farmer suicides have been blamed on crop losses.

Modi vowed to end the rural crisis, farmer suicides and corruption in rural government schemes in the remaining four years of his tenure.

He listed his achievements on the economy -- such as lowering inflation and raising billions of dollars through coal field auctions -- while hammering the governments that came before.

"I must say that leaders in the past have failed to achieve what I have achieved in just one year," Modi said, to cheers.

An opinion poll released by TV network Times Now showed strong support for Modi, with 65 percent of respondents saying the "good days" promised in his campaign had already arrived or were coming soon.

But criticism by opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has also hit home, with 44 percent echoing Gandhi's jibe that Modi ran a "suit-boot" government, in other words one that favoured the wealthy.

Gandhi's Congress party was demolished in the election last year, but has regained some vigor attacking Modi's rural record, including falling farmer exports and an executive order to ease farmland acquisition for industrial projects.

Modi listed the names of over two dozen welfare schemes launched in the last 365 days and reminded supporters of the massive corruption that tainted the government that preceded him.

"Bad days have vanished. Those who plundered wealth and cheated you have been defeated. They can target me but I will continue to protect you," said Modi.

(Reporting by Rupam Jain Nair; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Toby Chopra)