The Telegraph
Tuesday , July 16 , 2013
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Cong forced to respond

New Delhi, July 15: The Congress today used “naked communalism” to counter Narendra Modi’s “burqa of secularism” remark and tried to puncture the concept of the Gujarat model of development amid fears that the party was only responding to an agenda set by the BJP mascot before 2014.

“We will have to respond if the chairman of the campaign committee of the BJP resorts to disinformation campaign and makes factually incorrect statements,” AICC general secretary Ajay Maken said, explaining the sharp attack from the Congress.

The party aimed to blast Modi for painting a picture of all-round gloom in the country pitted against a “shining Gujarat” but the focus remained the secularism-communalism spat.

“The burqa of secularism is much better than naked communalism. While communalism divides, secularism binds,” Maken said. At a party meeting in Pune yesterday, Modi had charged the Congress with hiding behind the “burqa of secularism” when in crisis.

Maken sought to puncture claims about Gujarat’s growth, saying Modi was using “erroneous and false” figures. He claimed the state lagged behind on several development indicators.

“In 2011-12, Gujarat spent only 13.9 per cent on education and the state ranked 14th in India…Gujarat ranks 18th in India on gender equality on literacy rate, (which is) far below the national average…,” Maken said. He claimed the UPA’s performance was much better than the NDA’s.

A section of Congress leaders, however, felt that the stinging reaction to Modi may not be the right strategy as the party appeared to be only responding to the agenda being set by the BJP leader.

“Narendra Modi is setting the agenda and the Congress is only responding to it. In the process we are contributing to only highlighting Narendra Modi,” said a senior Congress leader, pointing out that the party should ignore the BJP mascot and focus on reaching out to the masses with its food security and cash transfer schemes.

Congress insiders said since the party was yet to chalk out the tactics to deal with the “propaganda machinery” of Modi, the leaders were responding to it independently.

“The burqa of secularism is better than the khaki shorts of Italian fascists of 1920s,” junior minister Shashi Tharoor reacted. He was referring to the RSS, whose pracharaks wear khaki shorts.

Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari was the first to attack Modi in the morning. “The cloak of secularism is all pervasive. It envelopes Hindus, Muslims, Sikha, Jains…While the veil of communalism is extremely sectarian,” Tiwari said. He claimed the BJP’s communal agenda had never succeeded and will never triumph over the idea of a secular India.

When Modi’s “kutte ka bachcha” reference made in the context of the Gujarat riots created a furore, the Congress had tried to refrain from hitting out. The party felt it should not get drawn into the BJP’s game plan to polarise the polity in the build up for 2014.