Armed with data and statistics, Congress leaders refute every point made by Narendra Modi as part of its new strategy to take on the firebrand Gujarat chief minister. Renu Mittal reports
The Congress has changed its strategy vis-à-vis Gujarat Chief Minister Narender Modi. Instead of ignoring much of what he has said in the past, the party under the directions of Vice President Rahul Gandhi has now moved to attack him on every point, big or small.
According to a senior party functionary, the intention is to expose him and “the lies he speaks day in and day out”. The Congress believes there is a huge constituency for secularism and anti-fundamentalism and this bloc should be kept fully tuned into what Modi is trying to do.
The Congress has adopted a multi-pronged attack against the Gujarat CM with senior leaders Digvijay Singh, Manish Tewari, Shakeel Ahmed, Ajay Maken hitting out at him via television, print media, micro-blogging website Twitter, making the most of whatever opportunity rises.
In a meeting Rahul had with newly appointed general secretaries and secretaries as well as in one-on-one interactions, it was made clear that the party would go all out to take on Modi and none of his controversial statements should be left unanswered.
Accordingly, Maken, the newly appointed chairman of the media communication department, has been working overtime. He has been slamming Modi armed with facts, figures and statistics with an aim to expose what the party calls “his lies, which are no where near the truth”.
While Maken took on Modi with government data and statistics, Union minister Shashi Tharoor tweeted, “Modi claims China spends 20% of GDP on education. Reality from Xinhua, China's official news agency: 3.93%.”
Estimating that further fuelling the secularism versus communal debate can be beneficial to the Congress in the run up to the general elections, the party on Monday launched an all out counter-attack on Modi for being critical of the United Progressive Alliance government during his speech in Pune.
Responding to Modi's 'burqa' remark, Maken said, "The burqa of secularism is better than the nakedness of communalism. Secularism unites the nation, communalism breaks the country."
Maken also hit out at Modi for criticising the Congress over the Commonwealth Games. Questioning Gujarat's contribution to sports, Maken, a former sports minister said, "Narendra Modi says that our Olympics performance could have been much better. I would ask Modi how many youngsters have qualified from Gujarat for the Olympics."
Criticising the education in Gujarat, he said, "In 2011-2012, the expenditure on education by Gujarat is on the 14th place. Why is Gujarat after 13 states? In Gujarat, only four degree and engineering colleges have regular principals. There are a lot of vacancies, which are not being filled in Gujarat. When posts of principals are empty in schools and colleges in Gujarat, how is Modi making these claims about education?"
"A person who has failed to perform in various sectors in his own state has no right to criticise the Centre," Maken added.
Modi had on Sunday said the government hides behind the veil of secularism whenever India faces any problem. "The Congress always wears the burqa of secularism whenever they face a problem. In the name of secularism, the Congress government can't play with the poor, teenagers and daughters of the country," Modi had said.
Taking a dig at the UPA government's ambitious food security programme, Modi had on Sunday said India's priority is skill development and merely bringing in the Food Security Bill would not feed the needy.
The government's decision to rush through an ordinance to put into effect its ambitious food security scheme was also slammed by Modi. "The Congress decided to bring in an ordinance because it does not trust its allies anymore. It's all a fight for credit and deprives their partners of the credit," he quipped.
"Instead of distributing the grains to the poor, the government let it rot and later gave the rotting grains to liquor manufacturers despite SC orders," Modi added.
The Gujarat CM also said the scam-tainted CWG games "destroyed national honour in the eyes of the world". "Two countries hosted two games...South Korea hosted Olympics and India the Commonwealth Games. While Korea brought honour to itself through the Olympics, our nation of 120 crore people lost its honour in the eyes of the world," Modi said addressing students and faculty at the FergussonCollege in Pune on Sunday.
As the war of words between Modi and the Congress intensifies, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Yashwant Sinha has warned that the Gujarat CM's controversial statements will shift focus from corruption. He said that the more Modi speaks the more the attention gets diverted from Congress's misgovernance.
"The Modi baiters have a clear game plan. The more he speaks, the more controversy he will create. The attention will shift from misgovernance and corruption to what happened more than 11 years ago in Gujarat. It will be a grave mistake to allow Congress change the agenda and force debate on its own terms," Sinha said.
Within the BJP, there are those who believe that the Congress may be a beneficiary in fuelling the secularism and communalism debate, particularly since many of the issues being raised by Modi are being comprehensively replied to by the party.
But with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh backing him, the common sentiment in his party’s highest decision-making circles is that the BJP needs to return to its hardline Hindutva agenda if it has to make a serious go at winning the next election.
And with that aim, the war of words has escalated manifold, and much more is yet to come.