Congress president Sonia Gandhi launched her sharpest attack yet on the Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday, making a rare television appearance to urge voters to reject "divisive and autocratic" forces that would ruin the country's "Bharatiyata" and "Hindustaniyat".
Sonia's United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is fighting a battle for survival in the face of a high-voltage challenge from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which opinion polls predict will emerge as the single largest party in the ongoing general elections due to end on May 12.
Without taking the BJP’s name, Sonia, speaking in Hindi, said that her party was fighting this election to protect the “very heart and soul” of India from those who sought to change it and divide the people of the country.
“We want unity. They want to impose uniformity. They say, ‘Just believe in Me’… Their vision, clouded with hatred and falsehood, their ideology, divisive and autocratic, will drive us to the ruination of our Bharatiyata, our Hindustaniyat,” she said. Her address was aired on all Hindi channels starting at 8.57 pm and lasted nearly three minutes.
The BJP reacted angrily, with spokesperson Prakash Javdekar terming Sonia's speech a show of desperation. "We have been seeking votes on Bharatiyata. The Congress has been asking for votes for the dynasty," he said, a reference to the Gandhi family.
The Congress has pitched the elections as a battle between communal and secular ideologies. It had come under attack from its allies, particularly Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, for not campaigning aggressively enough. But it has raised the temperature over the past few days, with Sonia's son Rahul, the party's vice-president, taking on the BJP's PM candidate Narendra Modi for not acknowledging his wife's existence in the past.
Sonia praised Indians for upholding certain core beliefs and values that have united diverse people into one nation. “Today I want to share with you what is in my heart, what makes me proud to be Indian, as each of you is a proud Indian. Our India is founded on certain core beliefs and values. It is these basic beliefs that have united all of us, diverse people, into one nation. I learnt these from you, as you made me one of your own,” said the Italian-born widow of late PM Rajiv Gandhi.
“We are fighting in this election for a future where power is not the preserve of a select few, but exercised by the many,” she said. “I ask each of you to think from your heart and decide what direction, what path you want our country to take.”