AHMEDABAD: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday flew in a seaplane from the Sabarmati riverfront to Dharoi Dam on the last day of campaigning for the Gujarat elections, courting a controversy over a possible breach of security protocol.
The Congress took a dig at Modi's style of pulling the curtain down on his poll campaign with the seaplane journey, terming it a "distraction" from real issues and a "hawa hawai" (gas).
Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said Modi riding the single-engine seaplane was a security breach as the rule book says that the Prime Minister can only fly in twin or multi-engine aircraft.
But the critcism didn't wobble Modi's flight that came as his roadshow in Ahmedabad scheduled for Tuesday was cancelled.
Waving to a crowd of supporters, Modi took off from the waters near the Sardar Bridge that connects Ahmedabad's old city with the newer parts in the west. A special jetty was built to facilitate the Prime Minister's boarding.
A video clip showed Modi buckled in a seat in the plane. After the plane landed in the pond of Dharoi Dam, Modi travelled to Ambaji Temple by road and prayed there.
Modi said the seaplane journey signified how the BJP was trying to harness waterways in Gujarat.
"Effective use of waterways augurs well for tourism. Places like Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, our vibrant Northeast, places with many water bodies, big dams, waterways will benefit with usage of sea planes. More tourism also brings greater economic opportunities. Sea plane services can also be helpful during times of medical emergencies. Those needing even quicker access to medical care and those living in remote areas stand to gain a lot," the Prime Minister tweeted.
Modi returned to Ahmedabad by the seaplane in the evening.
John Goulet, the Canadian pilot who flew Modi in the Quest Kodiak 100 turboprop single-engine plane, also called an SUV with wings, told reporters that the Prime Minister had been a "very good passenger".
"It was a very pleasing experience. I gave him a safety briefing. Sea planes are very common in many countries. It should be popular in India also as you have lakes, rivers, coastal areas," Goulet said.
Asked the reason for Modi taking a seaplane, Jagdish Bhavsar, an official of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said: "You can take this gesture of the Prime Minister as our other programmes like the Ro-Ro Ferry Service or the Bullet Train project or the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). You can take this new programme as one of the initiatives of BJP."
Modi's flight comes days after Minister for Shipping and Road Transport Nitin Gadkari took a trial flight off Mumbai waters in Setouchi's 10-seater Kodiak Quest 1000 seaplane.
While the Congress mocked at Modi's style, Abdullah wondered how the top security for the Prime Minister had been relaxed for him to take the seaplane.
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. pic.twitter.com/MocJIKh6es— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) December 12, 2017
Congress President-elect Rahul Gandhi said it was "only a distraction over the real issues of Gujarat". "If Modiji wants to fly in a seaplane, there is nothing wrong in it. It is good. But it is only a distraction. What did you do for the people in the 22 years of your rule in Gujarat."
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala termed it "hawa hawai", or an air bubble, as the the ruling BJP "did not understand development".
Tuesday was the last day for campaigning for the elections and all the political campaigning halted at 5 p.m. But door-to-door campaigning was allowed with the party symbol on caps and T-shirts.
The second and final phase of polls on Thursday will see around two crore voters decide the fate of 1,828 candidates fighting for 93 assembly seats.