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New York to New Delhi, Modi government faces pincer attack from Sonia, Rahul

Making a veiled attack on the government, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi said India’s reputation is in danger abroad because of divisive forces back home, while party president Sonia Gandhi sought the passage of contentious women’s reservation bill.

india Updated: Sep 21, 2017 19:42 IST
Rahul Gandhi during a meeting with NRIs at Times Square in New York City on Wednesday.
Rahul Gandhi during a meeting with NRIs at Times Square in New York City on Wednesday. (PTI Photo)

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi continued his attack on the government from US soil, raising the issue of growing intolerance in India on Thursday, even as party president Sonia Gandhi sought to corner the ruling alliance over the women’s reservation bill.

Sonia’s letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday seeking the passage of the contentious bill—which hasn’t seen the light of the day due to demands for sub-quota for SCs/STs, OBCs and minorities—is seen as intended to pre-empt any attempt by the National Democratic Alliance to claim credit for the move. It could, however, also ensnare the BJP into a factious debate at a time when the party is aggressively wooing other backward classes and Dalits.

“I am writing to request you to take advantage of your majority in the Lok Sabha to now get the Women’s Reservation Bill passed in the Lower House as well,” the Congress president wrote to PM Modi, promising him her party’s support for the move.

Hours later, in the early hours of Thursday (IST), Rahul Gandhi made a veiled attack on the NDA government, saying that India’s reputation as a country of peace and harmony is in danger abroad because of divisive forces at work back home.

“The divisive politics was ruining India’s reputation abroad and NRIs in the tradition of the great NRIs before them, should stand up to those dividing India now,” the Congress leader told a gathering of around 2,000 people at the Times Square in New York at the end of his two-week tour of the United States.

He said non-resident Indians had always played a crucial role in India’s progress. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Abdul Kalam Azad, Sardar Patel and BR Ambedkar were all non-resident Indians, he said, who brought to India their learnings and transformed the country.

Rahul’s remarks in the United States, especially his criticism of the government’s failure to create jobs and the frank admission of his own and the Congress’ shortcomings, have made headlines back home. Many have said the trip had raised his political profile and helped him emerge from his usually reticent style.

While Rahul has been seeking to corner the government on economic issues, Sonia’s letter to Modi on women’s quota bill signalled the opposition party’s attempt to undermine the BJP’s social engineering strategy.

The bill that envisages 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies was vehemently opposed by the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal when it came up for passage in the Rajya Sabha in 2010.

They demanded sub-quota for different groups. Although the upper house of Parliament passed it, the bill lapsed with the dissolution of the last Lok Sabha in 2014. The BJP had extended unequivocal support to the bill in the Rajya Sabha then. Ruling party sources maintained that it’s committed to passing the bill as part of its larger objective to ensure gender justice.

The BJP is inclined to push the bill in its present form but a likely clamour for sub-quotas for SCs/STs and OBCs—at a time when the party is reaching out to them—might not be politically desirable for the party.

It might also test the nerves of many NDA leaders from OBC and Dalit communities— Nitish Kumar of JD(U), Upendra Kushwaha of Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, Anupriya Patel of Apna Dal, and Ramdas Athawale of the RPI, among others.

In 2010, after the Rajya Sabha passed it, then party MP and now Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, had said although he was not opposed to the bill, it was “not the need of the hour” and there were other issues of national interest.