The Congress vice-president told party spokespersons to avoid making personal attacks on opposition leaders

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday told party spokespersons that they should refrain from making personal attacks on opposition leaders — instead, the focus should be on questioning their record.

Mr. Gandhi said this after Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla, followed by Rajya Sabha MP — and former Planning Commission member — Bhalchandra Mungekar criticised senior party leader and Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar — without naming him — for mocking the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, in a remark that has since proved counterproductive for the Congress, with Narendra Modi successfully exploiting it to earn sympathy for himself.

Indeed, now the BJP has even decided to embark on a mass contact programme from February 12, engaging with people at tea shops across the country, with the goal of reaching out to nearly 20 million people across the nation. Two TV sets will be installed at tea shops in 1,000 locations in 300 cities and people will interact with Mr. Modi and other BJP leaders at these ‘chai chaupals’.

On Thursday, at a meeting of party spokespersons, after the “chaiwallah episode” and its fallout was raised, party sources said Mr. Gandhi agreed with Mr. Shukla and Dr. Mungekar, saying he disapproved of personal attacks on opposition leaders, an indication that the Congress leadership is unhappy with Mr. Aiyar’s “chaiwala” jibe. “It is wrong to make personal attacks on opposition leaders,” he said at a meeting called to elicit suggestions on how best to get the Congress’ message across to people in the coming Lok Sabha elections.

Dr. Mungekar said by using the word “chaiwala” in a derogatory way, the feelings of many people had been hurt as lakhs of people earned their livelihood in this way, and had only served to derail the really serious debate on the record of Mr. Modi in Gujarat: the Gujarat development model, he contended, was “a lie.”

At the AICC meeting here on January 17, Mr. Aiyar had said Mr. Modi could not become Prime Minister but could certainly serve tea at the meeting. Congress general secretary and communication chief Ajay Maken immediately expressed his disapproval of the remark, and distanced the party from it.

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