The Congress leader rejected the suggestion that the 2014 election is a referendum on the leadership of Rahul Gandhi versus Modi

Narendra Modi’s projection as Prime Ministerial candidate will lead to “jacking up” of communal temperature and there can be more riots like Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, Congress leader and Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said on Wednesday.

He described Mr. Modi as a “mukhauta” (mask) of RSS and said the 2014 Lok Sabha elections would be a direct fight between Congress and the Sangh for the first time.

He said that the Bharatiya Janata Party wanted to convert the next general election into a battle for Prime Ministerial sweepstakes but Congress would not get into a “me too” syndrome, suggesting that the party may not project anybody.

“I think Modi’s political strategy has been and will always be communal polarisation... When his lieutenant Amit Shah was appointed as in-charge of UP, he gave the game away,” Mr. Ramesh told PTI in an interview.

Accusing the BJP of fanning the communal violence in Muzaffarnagar earlier this month, Mr. Ramesh apprehended more such incidents in the Hindi heartland with Mr. Modi’s projection.

“Muzaffarnagar is a trailer, the first millstone...

Muzaffarnagar is a millstone. There will be more such millstones. I fear that there will be a gradual jacking up of communal temperature.

“It’s a time-tested strategy in which Modi is a past master. I am afraid that the way we are going, UP and Bihar, which are heartland of Indian politics can see communal tensions and flare-ups,” he said.

Mr. Ramesh said that the events in the BJP in the last few months make it clear that what matters there is the RSS alone and BJP is just a mask.

“2014 is the first election, the Congress is fighting directly with RSS, with Modi as its mukhauta (mask) and Modi’s mukhauta is development. It’s a double mukhauta. So this election is not Congress versus BJP but Congress versus RSS.

“It’s high time the RSS should come out of purdah, register itself as a political party and fight elections directly and not through wholly-owned subsidiaries like the BJP,” he said.

He rejected a suggestion that the 2014 election is a referendum on the leadership of Rahul Gandhi versus Modi.

“No. Absolutely not... We do not see 2014 elections as a Prime Ministerial sweepstakes,” he said.

Asked why Congress is diffident about formally projecting Mr. Gandhi as its Prime Ministerial candidate, Mr. Ramesh said, “We are not in ‘me too’ strategy... We are not in reactive strategy that we must do it since the BJP did it.”

Mr. Ramesh, who is in the core team of the Congress vice president, said the party will fight the election on the basis of its policies, performance and leadership together.

He said that while the BJP is asking for votes in the name of Mr. Modi, Congress is seeking the mandate as a party to run the government.

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