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Cong’s bread & butter hope

New Delhi, Dec. 13: The Congress leadership has been receiving encouraging feedback from Gujarat about its issue-based campaign, which has so far thwarted Narendra Modi’s attempts to turn the discourse more emotive.

Sonia Gandhi has asked party campaigners not to bite Modi’s bait however strong the provocation. State Congress leaders have been told to keep their focus on the issues of agrarian distress, drinking water, unemployment and housing for the poor instead of responding to the chief minister’s rhetoric.

Congress sources claimed that Modi’s “desperation” to divert voters’ attention from bread-and-butter issues was distinctly visible now and that his intensified personal attacks on Sonia, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh reflected his growing worries.

“Our campaign has been a big hit. Our prospects seem much better now than a month ago,” a senior Congress leader told The Telegraph.

“Although some secular intellectuals have criticised us for not attacking Modi’s communal persona, our strategy is paying dividends. We are determined not to give him another maut ka saudagar (merchant of death) moment.”

The reference was to an expression Sonia had used during the 2007 poll campaign, which the chief minister had exploited to the hilt by invoking “Gujarati pride”. Modi has been recalling the phrase during this campaign too, trying to stoke emotions.

“Last time, Soniaben called me a maut ka saudagar, this time she called me a cheat. This is an insult to Gujarat,” he has been saying at rallies.

But his references to the phrase have failed to ignite passions at a time the Congress has studiously confined its campaign to the everyday concerns of ordinary people.

While Sonia has avoided even a mention of Modi in her speeches while accusing the state government of failing to fulfil its promises, Rahul’s subtle criticism of Modi’s politics has impressed most Congress leaders.

A senior Congress office-bearer said: “Rahul’s transformation from Uttar Pradesh to Gujarat has been amazing. He had been so blunt in attacking Mayawati, but he has changed his style to honour the party line of not locking horns with Modi at the personal level.”

Rahul has addressed all the three core issues of Modi’s campaign — his exploitation of Gujarati pride, his personalised propaganda and his development model — without turning the battle into a personality clash.

Some party leaders referred to Rahul’s observation that Modi was obsessed with himself and was working to fulfil his own dreams rather than the people’s, and said this should be the Congress’s theme song.

Senior Congress leaders have denied the party has abandoned the issue of communalism, pointing to the decision to field IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s wife Shweta against Modi. This, they say, is “a calculated move to keep all the issues concerning Modi alive”. Sanjiv is suspended after telling the Supreme Court Modi had instructed Gujarat police on the eve of the 2002 violence to “let the Hindus vent their anger”.

Asked about the wisdom of fielding an apolitical homemaker against a hardened politician, a Congress general secretary said: “But the issue is political.” Shweta is being seen as “symbolising” the 2002 riots and Modi’s core politics.