Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday accused the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress of abusing him because he is “from a backward community”. Modi was speaking at a rally in Maharashtra’s Madha.

He criticised Gandhi for saying all thieves share the Modi surname. “They abuse me because I am from a backward community,” Modi said. “This is how they view people from backward castes. Members of our community have had to face abuse on many occasions. This time, they [Congress] have claimed that all backward castes are thieves.”

On Monday, Gandhi, at a rally in Maharashtra’s Nanded, had wondered how all thieves have “Modi” in their names. He was referring to former Indian Premier League Commissioner Lalit Modi, fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi and Narendra Modi.

The prime minister asked the gathering if they will punish the Congress for “speaking in this manner”. “I am used to be at the receiving end of the abuse, but I will not tolerate the abuse meted out to Adivasis, Dalits and other backward castes,” Modi said. “They [Congress] still think they are running their sultanate.”

Modi attacked Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar for purportedly referring to his “family situation” to criticise him. “I draw my inspiration from the families in India, their sacrifice and hard work,” Modi said. “I know you [Pawar] cannot follow my path. Your model is a family based in Delhi [in reference to Gandhis].”

Modi stressed that a similar government at the Centre and in the state would ensure progress and development. “Mumbai was made a heaven for terrorists in the past,” he said. “I want your blessings from this Chhatrapati Shivaji land. After a long time I am seeing an election where the citizens of the country want to bring back the current government back to power.”

He praised his administration’s initiatives and accused the Congress of only focusing on removing him from power. “They [Congress] ran government for more than 55 years but do not have any plan for the next five years, all they say is Modi hatao,” he said.

Gandhi has repeatedly attacked the prime minister in recent months, claiming he gave Rs 30,000 crore of taxpayers’ money to businessman Anil Ambani in the Rafale deal.