Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday defended himself against opposition criticism for raking up the issue of national security during the election campaign, asserting uprooting terrorism is crucial to poverty alleviation.

He underlined that national security is an important issue as the money spent on it could be utilised in a better way for the uplift of the poor.

The prime minister rejected the Congress’ claim of having waived farmers’ loans in states ruled by it and the promise of replicating the measure across the country if voted to power.

He alleged that no poor Dalit or Adivasi gained from the loan waiver and only the opposition party’s “chela chapaati” (cronies) enjoyed the benefits.

Modi mocked regional satraps for nursing prime ministerial ambitions even while contesting only 20-40 or as little as eight seats in the case of Karnataka.

“They (the opposition) ask why does Modi keep on talking about terrorism? It is not an issue. The voters understand that national security and terrorism are important issues but these selfish dynasts are unable to realise this simple fact,” he told an election rally in this north Bihar town.

He spoke about the killing of over 350 people in terror attacks on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.

“Factories of terror are running in our neighborhood. Yet, they have the temerity to say it is not an issue,” Modi said, in an apparent reference to opposition parties taking exception to his invoking Balakot air strikes to avenge the Pulwama killing of 40 CRPF troopers during his election speeches.

The prime minister said elaborate security was not required for VIPs in the past, nor was police deployed in front of places of worship on a scale that is witnessed today. There was also no need for intensive checking and frisking at railway stations and bus terminuses.

In the last 40 years, he said, the country was forced to spend huge resources for upgrading the security apparatus.

“That money could have been spent on building schools and hospitals for the poor,” he said.

Highlighting the hardship faced by low-ranking personnel in security forces, he said, they come from a poor background, and because of the tense situation, they are forced to work non-stop for days together without getting even a wink of sleep.

He said in the event of any lapse, they end up losing their jobs.

“It is in this way that terrorism has made the poor suffer. The money that could have been spent on improving their lives is being spent by the state on purchasing weapons. Rooting out terrorism is crucial to alleviation of poverty. This national issue may not be an issue for the Mahamilavati (a motley band of disparate parties) gang, but for New India, it is a very big issue. This New India will chase terrorists and destroy their network,” Modi said, evoking loud cheers.

Referring to the ‘Darbhanga module’, often spoken about by counter-terror agencies, Modi said it is because of the mindset of neglecting national security that has brought disrepute to this town.

“But now you have an alert chowkidar (watchman). No militant nor any module is going to survive,” he asserted.

The prime minister claimed those demanding proof of Balakot air strikes earlier have changed tack after gauging the public mood and are now training their guns on EVMs.

“They have seen the public mood after three phases of polling in nearly 300 constituencies. Those who were earlier seeking evidence of the air strikes, are now after EVMs,” he said.

Rubbishing the election manifestos of the Congress as dhakosla patra (documents of hypocrisy), Modi said the party had in its 2004 manifesto promised full electrification by 2009 which it failed to keep.

Modi said, while speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort after becoming the prime minister, he had promised that 18,000 villages would be electrified within 1,000 days. “The promise was fulfilled even before that,” he claimed.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan were present at the prime minister’s rally.

In an apparent reference to RJD candidate for the seat Abdul Bari Siddiqui, who had said a few days ago that he could not recite Vande Mataram because of his monotheistic religious beliefs though he had no problem with chanting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’, the prime minister said people should ensure such contestants forfeit their security deposit.