Worried about increasing number of such incidents, the Centre is deliberating whether to confront the BJP directly or in a less obtrusive way

The UPA government — and the Congress — are increasingly growing anxious about the growing number of communal incidents in the country, most recently in Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir, as well as the possibility of such clashes in Uttar Pradesh as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) raises the pitch there on the Ayodhya temple issue.

But with law and order being a State subject, the Centre’s role is limited to sending paramilitary troops, if required, or sending an advisory to the particular State government if things deteriorate beyond a point.

So when — close on the heels of Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram telling his cabinet colleagues last week about the role of the Bajrang Dal in the violence in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used the Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhawna Awards ceremony on Tuesday to flag the issue of growing communalism in the country, it served as a cue to the party, a senior Congress functionary said, that the issue needed to be tackled urgently and firmly.

“There should be no slackness in efforts to stop communal forces,” Dr. Singh said on Tuesday, referring to the rash of communal incidents in non-BJP-ruled States, stressing, “We should oppose such forces at all levels and all the time — be it day-to-day life or in elections.” He then went on to exhort all political parties, all sections of society and people at large “to ensure that such efforts are defeated” and “nobody is able to create divide among us.”

If the Prime Minister made his pitch for communal harmony, even underlining how it could affect election results, the Congress will now have to work out whether communal elements should be confronted directly or in a less obtrusive way, lest it gives an advantage to the principal Opposition party, the BJP, which stands to gain the most from the activities of various RSS fronts such as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal.

In the past, the debate between those who would like to take a tough line and those who feel it is better to adopt a soft approach has resulted in the party falling between two stools — and disappointing its supporters by its lack of robustness.

The current situation has been further complicated for the Congress because of the growing prominence of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, and his continued efforts to communalise the discourse using phrases such as the “burqa of secularism,” describing himself as a “Hindu nationalist” or telling an interviewer that the killing of Muslims in Gujarat was akin to running over a puppy on the street.

For the moment, the Congress is taking a tough line. On Wednesday, party general secretary Digvijay Singh — one of the Congress’s most outspoken critics of the BJP and Mr. Modi — accused the principal Opposition party of trying to “communalise and polarise” politics to win elections through its sister organisation, the VHP, which announced its intention to launch a yatra on the temple issue. Mr Singh said it was “obvious from the day Amit Shah [Mr. Modi's lieutenant] was made the BJP general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh” by the BJP President Rajnath Singh what the party’s game plan was.

“There is no surprise because that is their agenda: communalise, polarise and try to win an election. That is the BJP's formula, the BJP’s strategy from the beginning,” he told journalists.

If Mr. Singh has been regularly tweeting about his displeasure with Mr. Modi, another general secretary — and a prolific tweeter — Shakeel Ahmed, too, has been using the social media to attack the BJP and the Gujarat Chief Minister.

The only concern, a senior Congress functionary told The Hindu, is that when Mr. Modi or the BJP is taken on publicly, it should be done with “full facts,” and in “a planned manner,” preferably by those familiar with the subject and in such a way as to reflect that the party is “speaking with one voice.”

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