Brushing aside opinion poll projections for the general elections, the Congress leadership on Wednesday launched a scathing attack on Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) prime minister candidate, Narendra Modi, saying his "exclusionary" ideology will harm the country.
Pollsters have predicted a rout for the Congress in the coming elections, which the ruling party too has described as "tough".
The Congress released its poll manifesto in New Delhi at a rare event where party president Sonia Gandhi, vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a joint public appearance for the first time in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
"Congress stood for a secular India," Sonia said, as the party dubbed the summer elections a battle between secularism and communalism.
"We want an India which is secular, where which religion you belong to or what language you speak or which region you are from do not matter," she added.
Having acknowledged that Modi is a formidable challenger, the Congress has sharpened its attacks on the Gujarat chief minister, who it viewed as a "divisive" figure.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has hit out at Modi on many occasions of late, dismissed the talks about the Gujarat model of development and defended the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government's 10-year track record.
Both Sonia and Rahul debunked opinion polls and expressed confidence that the Congress would win the elections for the third time in a row. "When the results come, you will be surprised," Rahul said.
Sonia defended the move to field former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, whose name figured in Mumbai's Adarsh housing scam, saying he was not debarred from contesting the elections by any law.
On the BJP campaign, Rahul said, "Just like the 'India Shining' balloon exploded (in 2004)... I can certainly say this balloon too will explode."
He said this would be particularly true in Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 seats and will see Modi contesting from Varanasi.
"In UP, this balloon is going to burst 100 %, and not 90%."
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