Asserting that a ‘divisive’ and ‘exclusionary’ Narendra Modi was not what India needed, the Congress on Wednesday pitched its “secular liberal nationalism” as the alternative to the BJP’s “narrow-minded communalism”.
Setting aside unfavourable poll projections, it said the UPA would come back for a third term in office. “You will be surprised when the results come out,” Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said during the release of the party’s manifesto for Elections 2014, sharing the dais with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party chief Sonia Gandhi – the first time they have come together this poll season.
The BJP’s PM candidate their common target, the Congress’ top three said the Lok Sabha poll was a battle between secularism and communalism, between inclusive agenda and divisive forces.
“We will struggle for an India that is secular and inclusive and does not pit one against the other,” Sonia said. “We will struggle for an India in which religion, region and language are not important and in which all are considered Indians.”
She also asserted that her party would definitely challenge Modi in Varanasi, though a candidate was yet to be chosen.
“Modi represents an ideology that is exclusionary and divisive,” said Rahul. “The ideology that questions the idea of India will harm the country.”
Making a rare public appearance in the run-up to polls, the PM was dismissive of the buzz around Modi’s Gujarat model of development even as he defended his government’s 10-year track record.
With the Congress sharpening its attacks on the Gujarat chief minister in the run-up to polls, Singh had recently said Modi as PM would be “disastrous” for the country.
“The PM is a wise man and on most issues, I bow to him. I tend to agree with his wisdom,” Rahul said when asked if he endorsed Singh’s views on Modi. “Modi’s ideology is one that makes people fight with each other. It will harm the country. Every Congressman will fight to defeat that ideology.”
Eyeing the emerging middle class and not just the disadvantaged section, the 48-page manifesto, titled Your Voice Our Pledge, promised to create 100 million jobs and bring 800 million of India’s 1.2-billion people into the middle class.
Apart from promises of social welfare, such as the right to health, housing and pension, the ruling party pledged 8% economic growth in the next three years and strong steps to contain inflation.
Dismissing predictions of a Congress rout, Sonia said, “I frankly don’t have much faith in opinion polls. In 2004, the story of Congress was over as per opinion polls. In 2009 also, we were given no chance.”
She also defended the move to field former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, whose name figured in the Adarsh housing scam. “He is not debarred from contesting elections by any law,” she said.
Rahul said the BJP’s campaign “balloon” would explode like its ‘India Shining’ campaign did in 2004. “This balloon is going to burst in UP… 100% and not 90%,” he said, referring to the state that, with 80 Lok Sabha seats, holds the key to government formation at the Centre.
The BJP dismissed the Congress manifesto as a “document of deceit”. Party leader Ravi Shankar Prasad accused the party of “rubbing salt on the wounds of people” by promising them lofty dreams when it was time for its departure.Congress manifesto release:
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