As Narendra Modi turned I-Day into a showdown with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress slammed the Gujarat chief minister for indulging in “petty politics” for personal projection.
Accusing Modi of being overeager, foreign minister Salman Khurshid said the leader’s tone suggested he was “so restless to become something big in the country” that he forgot it was a day when parties sink political differences.
The angry reaction summed up the mood in Congress but the condemnation of Modi hinged on grounds of propriety while the challenger’s unorthodox style dominated TV coverage and social media, amplifying issues of corruption and leadership that BJP has identified as its ammunition against UPA in 2014.
Congress leaders felt Modi’s political speech barely dressed as an I-Day address came across as arrogant and desperate. “We don’t think it will go down well with the masses,” a senior leader said.
Congress spokespersons shunned TV studios. “We don’t want to stoop to his level on this special day. This has never happened,” a strategist said.
AICC general secretary Ajay Maken said, “I appeal to members of fellow political parties that they unitedly uphold the sanctity of the day so that the generations to come continue seeing 15th August as a template of freedom and unity rather than an opportunity for self-seeking.”
Minister of state for information and broadcasting Manish Tewari added, “I think the chief minister should withdraw his remarks about the PM.”
The moral stance, however, skirts the question posed by Modi’s preparedness to adopt unconventional tactics and if such fine lines matter with public opinion influenced by negatives like corruption, inflation and unemployment.
The challenge for Congress lies in countering the Gujarat leader who is not hobbled by traditional concerns like bipartisanship on I-Day and who makes barbs of “saas, bahu aur damaad” to refer to allegations of malfeasance against Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra.
If Parliament witnesses prolonged clashes on Vadra and the economy, Congress’s arguments may come across as stonewalling while the rival hammers home his perceived advantage.
Given the risk, Congress is sticking to its strategy of what is to be done to retain its sway over the rural poor. The push for the food security act seems aimed in that direction, with concerns that urban centres and middle classes may be a challenge in 2014 unlike the last time when they swept the cities of Delhi and Mumbai.
Foreign minister Khurshid slammed Modi’s hallenge to PM for a debate as “pompous” and called him a “villain” to counter his “saas, bahu” barb.