If Narendra Modi found an easy target in Rahul Gandhi for his second rally in Uttar Pradesh, it was largely because of the Congress vice-president’s strategy to play the Gandhi family card more forcefully in the coming polls in MP, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Delhi, BJP officials said.
In fact, the BJP PM candidate’s attack came as his party on Friday formally complained to the Election Commission against Gandhi’s remarks in Rajasthan rallies, blaming the saffron party for inciting communal riots at Muzaffarnagar.
Modi sought to give an impression he was no longer bothered about any challenge from Rahul Gandhi, who is the Congress’ chief campaigner for the assembly polls and, its face for the 2014 elections though his party would avoid joining in any comparison exercise.
By focusing on the killings of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in his rallies, Gandhi handed fresh ammunition for the BJP. Modi did not miss the first opportunity to tear into his strategy, according to BJP leaders.
Earlier, Modi had decided that he would not over use his “artillery” against the Gandhi family in his campaign and confine himself to the Congress and its government’s “shenanigans.”
But Gandhi’s reference to Pakistan’s ISI approaching riot-hit Muslim youths in Muzaffarnagar and his anger when Indira Gandhi was killed by Sikh bodyguard with whom he had played in his childhood was too “irresistible” for Modi to let go, BJP officials said.
When at his rally on Friday, Modi asked Gandhi to either reveal the identity of Muslim persons approached by the ISI or apologise publicly to Muslims for levelling serious allegations. It was the first time the Gujarat CM, who is blamed for the 2002 riots in his own state, has ever spoken against “defaming” of the entire Muslim community.
Similarly, Modi’s barbs at Gandhi for referring to his anger at Sikh bodyguards for killings his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, is also first time he has sought to openly talk about the anti-Sikh riots that followed her assassination.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi waves to the crowds during a rally. (PTI Photo)
The Congress, of course, defended Gandhi. “What he (Gandhi) has said is a fact that is known by the whole country that when the house is put on fire by insiders, the outsiders will try to benefit from it. When there will be communal tension in the country, outside forces inimical to India will try to take advantage,” party leader Randeep Singh Surjewala said.
External affairs minister Salman Khurshid accused Modi of lowering the level of political discourse by attacking Gandhi over his statement. “I feel a tremendous sense of dismay and distress that a public announcement made with sensitivity and seriousness expressed by way of a concern should be treated by BJP this way,” he said.
Video: Name those in touch with ISI or apologize to Muslims: Modi to Rahul