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Rahul Gandhi’s Congress has perfected art of handing campaign momentum over to Narendra Modi

Omar Abdullah has wondered aloud on Twitter whether there are BJP sleeper cells inside Congress that become activated ahead of the elections to undermine Congress chances. The National Conference chief was reacting to the Congress' personal attacks on the prime minister's parents. Narendra Modi’s father passed away 30 years ago. His nonagenarian mother lives a quiet, simple life. She remains far away from politics. The references to Modi's parents during the election campaign indicate the paucity of imagination within Congress ranks and a sense of frustration at the lack of real issues with which to target the prime minister.

 Rahul Gandhi’s Congress has perfected art of handing campaign momentum over to Narendra Modi

File iamge of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

It also exposes the hypocrisy of Rahul Gandhi's 'politics of love' and his shortsightedness as a leader. The easiest way to hand campaign momentum to Modi is to launch personal attacks against him, target his caste, his past vocation of selling tea or his parents. That the Congress hasn’t learnt its lesson despite repeated setbacks points to a lack of leadership at the highest level. The buck stops with the party president.

Last Thursday, while addressing a rally in the city of Indore in Madhya Pradesh that goes to polls on 28 November, Congress leader Raj Babbar compared the fall in rupee's value with the advanced age of the prime minister's mother.

In a video that has since gone viral, Congress leader Vilasrao Muttemwar is seen purportedly comparing the lineages of Rahul and Modi, stating, "The world knows who the father of Rahul was, who the grandmother of Rahul was, but nobody knows the name of Modi's father."

These remarks are not made by the Congress rank and file. Babbar is a senior leader and the chief of the party’s Uttar Pradesh unit. Muttemwar is a former Minister of State. To date, Rahul has not publicly condemned these statements or posted a tweet distancing his party from these remarks, creating space for Modi to exploit.

The prime minister has blamed Rahul for tacitly supporting these remarks. Addressing a rally in Madhya Pradesh's Vidisha on Sunday, Modi said, "The Congress is running out of steam in this election, so it has started dragging my parents into politics. No Congressman would make such a statement against me or my family without the consent of the party president (Rahul). It is the naamdar (dynast) who is making his leaders speak against me."

Opposition leaders and critics have accused Modi of hypocrisy, pointing out that he has criticised Rahul's parents in the past as well.

This is a case of false equivalence. As holders of public office, Rahul's grandparents were open to criticisms of their work, and their contribution to politics and India's development since Independence is subject to public scrutiny. This criticism — as Modi has made in the past — cannot be compared to Congress' attacks on Modi's parents who never held public offices and has/had nothing to do with politics.

Modi is not one to let slip the opportunity. He pointed out that his "mother sits in her house, performing religious rites, confining herself to a room, and has never visited Madhya Pradesh. She does not even know the R of rajneeti (politics)".

He noted, "Yesterday, they took the name of my mother and now my father. The Congress chief is behind this... Naamdar alleges that the prime minister takes the names of his family members. Yes, I have to take their names as they were in politics, unlike my family members who sit quietly in their home and do their job… Had my parents held any public post, they should also have been criticised."

If private citizens are to be made into political targets, then it does seem that the Congress lacks real issues with which to work. Modi has a point here. Now compare the Congress' bungled communication strategy with that of the BJP. The prime minister on Sunday turned the spotlight on the Supreme Court's stance regarding the Ayodhya title dispute, and suggested that the judiciary's reluctance to take up the case has something to do with the pressure that Congress has brought to bear even on judges of the Supreme Court.

Speaking to the public in Rajasthan’s Alwar district, Modi on Sunday said, "Whenever any Supreme Court judge wants to hear the Ram temple case, the Congress' Rajya Sabha lawyer used the threat of impeachment to 'scare' judges." He was referring to the impeachment motion brought by Congress-led Opposition against former CJI Dipak Misra.

"This is a dangerous game. Congress has no faith in the judiciary. They are working to scare judiciary on the grounds of their numbers in the Rajya Sabha but I we will not let this happen in the temple of democracy. I would also like to tell judges not to be afraid and keep going on the path of justice," he added.

As the clamour for a Ram temple in Ayodhya gathers momentum in the Hindi heartland, Modi has sought to turn the focus on election campaign to the trending topic, lent tacit backing to the movement, accused the Congress of delaying tactics and tied the judiciary’s reluctance on hearing the case with the impeachment motion that was moved by the Congress.

There will be debates on the veracity of Modi's claims, but it is a superior communication strategy compared to the one where self-claimed "messengers of love" in politics are caught targeting the parents of their political rivals. Rahul needs to head to the drawing board.

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Updated Date: Nov 26, 2018 15:34:42 IST