Congress to PM: Not time for poll booth politics
The Congress on Thursday bluntly told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that there are times in a nation’s life that are not suited to politicking and lamented that the ruling party was not in sync with the national spirit.
On a day Modi made an election speech to the BJP’s booth workers while choosing not to address the nation even once on the hostilities with Pakistan, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said: “There is something called Rajdharm (duty of governance). You have to rise above partisan interests and understand that this is not the time for crass politicking.”
The BJP’s facade of “India-first” had been ripped as it continued to work for its own political interests at a time the nation was gripped by concern and fear for the Indian fighter pilot in Pakistan’s custody, the Congress said. Nothing is above power for the BJP, it underlined.
Tewari said: “There are times in a nation’s life when people expect parties to rise above political interests. This is one such moment when our brave fighter pilot Abhinandan is in Pakistan’s custody. The entire nation was looking to its leadership but the Prime Minister was interested in (addressing) the BJP booth workers. Instead of strengthening the nation, he was strengthening his election machinery.”
Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala rubbed it in with this tweet: “Sena seema sambhaal rahi hai aur Pradhan Sewak booth sambhaal raha hai. Ye hain satta ke sipahi. (The military is protecting the borders and the Pradhan Sevak is protecting the polling booth. Here is a soldier of power).” Pradhan Sevak or “Prime Servant” of the people is how Modi likes to describe himself.
Tewari said BJP chief Amit Shah and other party leaders, too, “have brazenly indulged in politics and tried to exploit this episode for political gains” unlike the Opposition that had shown restraint and maturity.
The Congress tweeted: “Countrymen, it is happening for the first time that our fighter pilot is in Pakistan’s custody and the whole country is worried about his safety but the Prime Minister is holding an election campaign. Namumkin ab mumkin hai.”
“Namumkin ab mumkin hai” or the “Impossible is now possible” is the BJP’s catchphrase for the general election.
It is shameful that while India awaits the return of Wing Commander Abhinandan, our Prime Time PM cannot stop campaigning even for a few minutes. We stand with our soldiers & will continue to question the Modi Govt on their apathy. #MeraJawanSabseMajboot— Congress (@INCIndia) February 28, 2019
The BJP had come under criticism on social media for holding Thursday’s programme titled Mera Booth Sabse Majboot (My booth is the strongest), which the party had widely publicised as the world’s biggest video-conference, at a time an Indian fighter pilot is in Pakistani captivity.
The Prime Minister addressed the BJP’s booth workers and advised them how they could help the party return to power, called the Opposition’s alliance adulterated and spoke about the film Uri that is based on the 2016 surgical strike.
By contrast, the Congress had cancelled its working committee meeting and a big public rally in Ahmedabad scheduled on Thursday.
As the BJP carried on with its programme, the Congress ran campaigns on social media under the hashtags #booth-pehle-ya-desh (does the booth come first or country) and #mera-jawan-sabse-majboot (My jawan is the strongest).
Asked about finance minister Arun Jaitley’s charge that the Opposition parties had helped Pakistan by criticising the government, Tewari said: “We didn’t criticise the government, we didn’t even ask questions even though there are valid questions to be asked. We only asked the government to rise above partisan politicking. The nation wants us to rise above politics. Not only the Prime Minister, so many BJP leaders are brazenly exploiting the episode for elections.”
The Congress spokesperson continued: “Former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa said the air strikes will help the BJP win 22 out of the 28 seats. Amit Shah sought votes for Modi at public rallies citing the ‘strong response’ to Pakistan. Union minister Giriraj Singh said those who do not participate in Modi’s March 3 rally will be declared traitors. All these strengthen Pakistani propaganda.”
Asked about Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s call for de-escalation and talks with Pakistan, Tewari said: “There are certain inescapable facts. Pakistan has used semi-state actors and non-state actors in the proxy war against India for decades and Punjab was the worst victim of terrorism for over a decade. But there is a time to act and there is a time to talk. We think the atmosphere is not conducive for dialogue at present. Sidhu may have his individual view but that’s not the Congress view.”
Asked what the government should do if not initiate a dialogue with Pakistan, Tewari said: “It is for the government to decide what is the best course of action. We are not going to use a public platform to advise the government.”
He also dismissed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s overtures for talks, pointing to the issue of the involvement of Pakistan’s deep state in cross-border terrorism and Islamabad’s track record for decades.