Congress on Thursday dared Narendra Modi to an open debate on his governance model in Gujarat, while rubbishing his attack on the UPA for the economic slowdown.

In a scathing attack on BJP on various issues, Union Minister Manish Tewari also accused it of practising “fascism” over the latter’s tirade against Amartya Sen and wondered why the Opposition should “quibble” over poverty rate coming down.

“Gujarat Chief Minister is in the habit of making one or the other statement daily...If he is so confident of the governance model of Gujarat, he should come and debate it with us any day on a place and format of his choice.

“It will be crystal clear how much strength that governance model has...People of the country will judge...they would be able to sift the fact from the fiction,” Mr. Tewari told reporters.

Mr. Tewari’s reaction came a day after Mr. Modi alleged that lack of leadership and policy paralysis in UPA are responsible for the bad state of the economy.

To a question whether he was also challenging Mr. Modi for a debate on the issue of human rights violation in Gujarat, the Congress leader said that this is “something so open” and known that there is no need for a debate on it.

On BJP’s charge that Planning Commission data showing a fall in the number of people living below the poverty line was a “conspiracy” to deprive the poor of the benefits of government schemes, Mr. Tewari said he was “amazed that any political party can really quibble over the rate poverty coming down”.

“This is actually the difference of the ideologies. While UPA is of the belief that poverty should be removed from the country, BJP believes in removing the poor. Our belief is that hunger should go away. They believe those hungry should go away,” the Union Minister said.

Justifying the Planning Commission data on poverty, Mr. Tewari said that they show that the reduction rate of poverty during UPA’s term was much quicker than in the regime of non-UPA parties when the BJP-led NDA ruled for the maximum time.

Mr. Tewari said he was surprised that while any political party would be proud of dwindling number of poor people in the nation, it is surprising that some party raises objection as to why the poverty rate is coming down.

He also hit out at the BJP for its attack on Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who said he did not want Modi to become India’s prime minister as he does not have secular credentials.

The prominent economist also criticised Mr. Modi’s model of governance, saying he did not approve of it.

BJP strongly reacted to it with party MP Chandan Mitra leading the pack.

While maintaining that he has great personal regard for Mr. Mitra, Mr. Tewari said it was “eminently regrettable” that BJP resorted not only to the “ignominy” of asking Dr. Sen to return Bharat Ratna, something that happened for the first time in India, but some of the spokespersons of that party also asked the veteran economist to return the Nobel prize.

“What kind of mentality is. What is this if not Fascism.That either you are with us or against us and if you are against us, return the Bharat Ratna. What wrong Amartya Sen has done? Does the BJP believe in the freedom of expression. This is a big blow to the right to express, write and speak,” Mr. Tewari said.

While the Gujarat Chief Minister gives statements daily and his party considers important its right to speak, “they thing the voice of others should be muzzled with a tape”.

Asked whether Congress party is ready for a debate between Mr. Modi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi, Mr. Tewari said the BJP leader was a Chief Minister while he is a Union Minister and hence let Mr. Modi first debate with him.

Mr. Tewari also took a dig at BJP president Rajnath Singh over the Modi visa issue but declined to endorse or criticise the act of more than 60 MPs writing to U.S. President Barack Obama seeking denial of visa to Mr. Modi. Some MPs have denied doing so.

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