While the Bharatiya Janata Party has gone out of its way to convert the upcoming Lok Sabha election as a contest between its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, the Grand Old Party is pitching next month’s polls as a battle of two opposing ideologies. Anita Katyal reports
This was evident from the comments made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul, at the release of the party’s election manifesto on Wednesday.
All the three leaders did not fail to refer to the BJP’s “divisive” ideology while underlining that in contrast, the Congress believed in bringing people together. Its core ideology has also been reflected in the Congress party’s election campaign, “Main Nahin, Hum” (Not I, us).
Whether it was the prime minister, Sonia or Rahul, they repeatedly underlined that the Congress party’s “inclusive ideology” had been the guiding principle in the preparation of its election manifesto.
In fact, this has been the Congress’ recurring theme as it seeks to overcome 10 years of anti-incumbency by pointing out that the BJP speaks up for a few chosen people (read the rich) and divides people, while the Grand Old Party recognises the country’s diversity and works for the fulfilment of the aspirations of all sections of society.
The BJP’s election campaign, on the other hand, has been highlighting the United Progressive Alliance government’s poor record in governance, its inability to contain inflation and the rampant corruption witnessed during its regime.
When questioned specifically about Modi, Rahul repeatedly maintained that the latter is an individual and that he had nothing against him as an individual but he was opposed to the ideology he represents, which is “exclusionary.”
Stating that this ideology is against the idea of India, Rahul stated that this ideology tends to pit people against each other. “This ideology has to be defeated by the Congress,” he declared.
Continuing in the same vein, the Congress vice-president stated the ideology represented by Modi questions the fundamentals of all that India stands for. “That’s what I am questioning it … the real danger is represented by this ideology,” he added.
Rahul refrained from making any personal comments about Modi even when he was asked if he agreed with the prime minister’s statement that if Modi comes to power, it will be “disastrous for the country”.
His only response was, “The PM is a wise man and on most of the issues I bow to him. I tend to agree with his wisdom.”
While explaining the salient features of the party’s 2014 election manifesto, Sonia also made an indirect reference to the BJP’s divisive ideology without naming its main political rival. The coming election, according to the Congress president, is about protecting the basic structure of the constitution which had been bequeathed to this country by its forefathers.
“Harmony is must, not divisive politics. We will fight for the unity of India. This election for the Congress is important to keep the constitutional fabric of the country intact. We will fight for unity in the country. We will fight for the ideology which binds people and does not divide them,” Sonia emphasised, adding that the Congress will struggle “for a secular India” where it is important that everybody is viewed as an Indian, irrespective of a person’s caste or religion.
Referring to the election manifesto, she said, "For our opponents, manifesto is a vote-getting weapon. For us it is a holy document."
Underlining the party’s concept of inclusive growth, the prime minister said that though growth is necessary, it has to be backed by adequate resources for health, education, agriculture and the needs of the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other weaker sections.
"We envision an inclusive society, a rapidly expanding economy in which growth benefits all sections of our society and we want to generate lot more new jobs to provide for the youth of the country," Manmohan Singh said in his opening remarks.
Putting up a spirited defence of the UPA government performance, the prime minister also took a dig a Modi’s Gujarat model of development. He remarked, "The Congress model is a real model as it promises long-term solutions. The Congress’ record is visible to everyone who cares to look at it." Quoting statistics, Manmohan said the UPA government had delivered more growth than its opponents.
Continuing with its rights-based approach, the Congress party manifesto has promised a right to health, pension and housing. Unveiling a 100-day plan for growth, it promised to restore India’s economic growth to over 8 per cent in three years, improved manufacturing, one trillion rupees investment in infrastructure and job creation.
While proposing an agenda for faster economic growth and focusing on fiscal consolidation, the Congress did not overlook the requirements of the “aam admi” by promising a number of schemes for the poor, youth, women, farmers and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi present the party's manifesto in New Delhi. Photo courtesy: INC website