The emergence of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on the national political centre stage in his new role as the BJP’s official campaign manager, and his remarkable ability to grab the headlines virtually every day, has given the Congress the opportunity to defend, what one party leader described as, “the vision of our founding fathers, a vision of India that has flourished.”
For instance, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, party communication boss Ajay Maken and Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari have led the charge over the last few days after Mr. Modi made his now infamous “kutte ka bachcha” comment and spoke with pride about being a Hindu nationalist in an interview with Reuters.
“Mr. Modi is making outrageous statements — he cannot go unanswered,” Mr. Tewari told The Hindu , stressing, “his insensitive comments need to be sorted out. There are two competing visions of India: the broad pluralistic idea of India has flourished and now the BJP is trying to impose its sectarian, majoritarian notion. It is not about Mr. Modi — any other BJP leader making such statements would be as resolutely opposed.”
So, for the Congress, a party that prides itself on having used the nine years of UPA rule to restore plurality and the credo of inclusion — social, economic and political — Mr. Modi’s boast of being a “Hindu nationalist” and admitting to only a twinge of sorrow at his car running over puppiesclearly needed to be confronted.
But while senior leaders of the Congress are better prepared to deliver the party’s message, now virtually every Congressman of any standing is shooting off comments about Mr. Modi. So much so that a section within the party is beginning to wonder whether this wall-to-wall coverage of the Gujarat Chief Minister is serving its purpose.
A senior party functionary told The Hindu , “Of course, we need to take Mr. Modi on, but it must be a calibrated attack — we can’t afford to have him occupying the entire political space.” Doing that is easier said than done.
If the Congress objective is to “reiterate the pluralistic idea of India” while simultaneously “exposing the outrageous myths surrounding Mr. Modi’s phantom track record of governance,” it can go awry, even with the best of intentions. On Monday, when Mr. Maken called a press conference to challenge Mr. Modi on his track record on sports, education and social welfare , a question posed by a journalist on Mr. Modi’s use of the phrase “burqa of secularism” in Pune on the previous day did not just elicit the comment that the “burqa of secularism” is better than “naked communalism” — it was this comment that made the headlines rather than the holes in Mr. Modi’s governance record.