Three Congress Cabinet ministers — at different venues — held press conferences on Friday to talk about different aspects of the achievements of the Manmohan Singh government.
Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal compared the track record of the Congress-led UPA government with that of the BJP-led NDA that preceded it; Union Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo spoke about the many measures taken by the government to help bring adivasis into the national mainstream; and Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram spotlighted the good news on the economic front.
For the Congress, the fact that BJP prime-ministerial nominee Narendra Modi’s utterances at public meetings and functions is beginning to dominate the political agenda is proving tricky to deal with, party sources said.
With elections in five States less than a month away and general elections looming next year, the effort now is to try and recapture the public discourse, to get the party’s talking points out into the public domain, even as Mr. Modi’s statements are challenged, they said. “The narrative of the last couple of weeks,” Union Information and Broadcasting Minister told The Hindu, “demonstrates that the Chief Minister of Gujarat is not averse to sacrificing the truth and public trust at the altar of rhetoric. It raises disturbing questions with regard to the credibility of a man who is the pretender [for] the top job.”
But even as government and party spokespersons will take on Mr. Modi’s statements, party sources say they do not want to remain entirely in response mode. In the coming days, the attempt will also be to put the UPA’s scorecard in the public domain, as was done on Friday. At a press conference held at his residence here, Mr. Sibal released figures that demonstrated that the UPA government had, in its nine years, outperformed the NDA government in agricultural growth, the services sector, industry, savings rate, investment rate, and in controlling the fiscal deficit and the revenue deficit.
He also provided Planning Commission statistics for different sectors of the economy to show that the current government had done better than its predecessor. But simultaneously, he launched a blistering attack on Mr. Modi, not naming him, but referring to him as “Nirantar Virodhi [one who constantly opposes]”.
“We have always spelt out our policies on education, foreign affairs, etc., but Nirantar Virodhi is yet to give us an alternate vision or spell out his policies,” Mr. Sibal said, challenging Mr. Modi to a public debate on policy issues. Questioning his recent appropriation of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and the speech that he made in Patna that was subsequently pilloried by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Mr. Sibal said: “A man who does not know history, how can he create history?”
If Mr. Sibal pitched into Mr. Modi, Mr. Deo, who addressed a press conference at the Congress headquarters, stuck to listing the achievements of his ministry. The enactment of the Forest Rights Act by the UPA that led to the distribution of pattas to the tribals, combined with the policy of announcing a minimum price for forest produce and the inclusion of bamboo and tendu — in the list of forest produce that the adivasis may sell — has improved the condition of tribals, he said.
Development, Mr. Deo stressed, was the only way to eradicate Naxalism; it must not be treated as merely as a law and order problem.