NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and election rival Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi traded barbs about campaign funding on Wednesday, with both sides accusing the other of taking money from top industrialists Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani.

Neither of the business leaders have made any public comment about who they might support in the election, if anyone, and their businesses did not reply to requests for comment. Neither candidate presented any evidence for their claims.

The comments from Modi seek to counter Gandhi’s long-running criticism about what he says are Modi’s ties to the country’s two richest men, weeks into the election where differences over growth, poverty and unemployment are key themes.

But the ramped up rhetoric could also be part of a change of tack from Modi.

A lower turnout so far in the six-week vote has rattled Modi’s campaign managers and called into question whether his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies can achieve the landslide predicted by opinion polls a month ago, BJP leaders and political analysts have told Reuters.

They say the lack of momentum seems to have prompted Modi to change the thrust of his campaign speeches, focusing on economic growth before the first phase of voting to now attacking rivals as pro-Muslims and in other ways in bid to fire up the party’s hardline base.

“For five years you abused Ambani-Adani and now suddenly you have stopped. Meaning, you have accepted truckloads of some illegal funds. You’ll have to answer to the country about this,” Modi said at an election rally.

Gandhi responded hours later by asking Modi whether he was “slightly scared” and said he should send financial crime investigators to do a full inquiry immediately.


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