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Congress for an unsparing, criticising campaign against Modi

February 27, 2014 21:01 IST

While all poll surveys point to an overwhelming anti-Congress mood in the country, there is a growing consensus in the grand old party that it has no reasons to be defensive and should instead run an aggressive campaign against Bharatiya Janata Party’ prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi by questioning his administrative acumen and underlining the corporate support he enjoys, says Anita Katyal

Several Congress leaders made this point at the first meeting of the 50-member election campaign committee called by party president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday to elicit suggestions about the poll campaign.

Although Sonia has personally announced that the Congress will not be declaring a prime ministerial candidate before the Lok Sabha polls, a number of speakers raised this issue at Thursday’s meeting. It was pointed out that the Congress should declare Rahul Gandhi as its PM candidate as the Congress vice-president would then be taken more seriously by the media and the people.

Sonia admitted that the Congress faces a tough electoral challenge but urged the party to put up a united fight while underlining that the campaign should highlight the achievements of the United Progressive Alliance government.

Faced with a credibility crisis and 10 years of anti-incumbency, the Congress appears to be fighting a losing battle. Modi’s popularity ratings are soaring as he has succeeded in projecting himself as a decisive, strong and competent leader as against a corrupt and ineffective Congress-led UPA government.

Showcasing his achievements in Gujarat, Modi has been promising to “change the face of India” on the same lines as he has done in his home state.

Participating in the deliberations, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari pointed out that the party was initially in two minds about launching a frontal attack against Modi, it should not hesitate in doing so now since the Gujarat chief minister has been named the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.

The Congress, according to him, should be unsparing in criticising and questioning Modi, especially with regard to the claims made about his governance record. Tewari maintained that the Congress should rebut Modi’s declarations on every point and expose how the corporate sector is backing his candidature.

At the same time, he suggested that senior  leaders should not react individually to Modi’s public statements and that instead this task be entrusted to the Congress media managers  who should instead respond exhaustively to the BJP prime ministerial candidate’s claims during the daily press briefings.

Endorsing Tewari’s suggestions, Gujarat’s Tushar Chaudhary said that Modi’s administrative lapses in his home state should be highlighted more aggressively at the national level. While there was all-round agreement that the Congress should not shy away from attacking Modi, there was also a consensus that the party should hard-sell the UPA government achievements in its election campaign.

While Sonia made this point in her opening remarks, Tewari told the meeting that since the government’s official campaign will have to be called off once the model code of conduct is in place, the ruling alliance’s accomplishments should be incorporated in the party’ poll campaign.

All efforts in this regard have so far failed to make an impact.

In fact, Congress strategists are unable to fathom why there are so few takers when they tell their side of the story. While most people are not willing to listen, others are unwilling to believe the government and the party.

Several Congress leaders have repeatedly admitted that the party’s “media and communication” strategy had been ineffective.

Taking a cue from Sonia’s opening statement, former Union minister Kumari Selja agreed that the Congress had no reason to be defensive. “Why should we be on the backfoot? After all, we have a strong leadership, a network of cadres, government’s achievements and a future vision,” she underlined, adding that the party should go ahead with full confidence.

Other participants urged the leadership to ensure that tainted candidates are not given tickets and that the lists of contestants early, extensive padyatras be undertaken to connect with the people and galvanise party cadres. It has been suggested that Congress vice-president, who is leading the party campaign, should undertake padyatras and address rallies in at least 300 parliamentary constituencies.

While the meeting’s proceedings went off smoothly, All India Congress Committee general secretary Gurudas Kamat struck a discordant note when he objected to a note issued a few days ago directing  all party functionaries to ensure that padyatras are conducted  in the states under their charge before the model code of conduct comes into effect.

“Is it possible to undertake such a mammoth job in such a short time,” he asked.

Thursday’s meeting comes shortly after Rahul had an informal meeting with members of the Congress Working Committee last week where he discussed the party’s campaign strategy and invited suggestions for inclusion in the election manifesto.

In addition, Rahul has held a series of meetings with different social groups for their feedback for the party’s manifesto as he wants this to be a participatory exercise.

Anita Katyal in New Delhi