Cong won't name its biggest challenge!

Modi is party's Voldemort, who cannot be mentioned

bhavdeepkang

Bhavdeep Kang | January 21, 2013


Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi

Like arch-villain Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, Narendra Modi was “he-who-must-not-be-named” at the Congress shivir in Jaipur. For, like Voldemort, the very mention of the man appears to send shivers down the collective spine of the Congress brass (with a few notable exceptions).

More from Chintan Shivir: Rahul gives Congress new mantra: continuity with change!

Modi's name was not mentioned at all during the course of discussions at the chintan shivir, Congress leaders were at pains to tell the media. He did not come up even during the in camera discussions on “Emerging Political Challenges”. But the very silence brought Modi into sharper focus.

Privately, Congress leaders acknowledged that Modi was perhaps the biggest “emerging political challenge” for the party. However, while some felt the BJP would never allow Modi to take the centre stage, others said pitting him in a direct battle with Rahul Gandhi would work to the Congress advantage. Firstly, because the NDA might well split along “secular” lines and secondly, because Modi's appeal was limited to Gujarat and it was high time that this was exposed.

It was left to the Congress master blaster Mani Shankar Aiyer to articulate this viewpoint. After having famously referred to Modi as “lahu purush (blood man)” during the Gujarat election campaign, he told reporters at the shivir that Modi would trigger the NDA's collapse. “I want Modi to become their leader because if a communal leader who is anti-poor is leader of the opposition, our victory is guaranteed”.

The other Congress leader to mention Modi was AICC general secretary Digivjay Singh, who - like Aiyer - enjoys a reputation for shooting his mouth off first and answering questions later. Singh noted Modi's prowess as a communications tactician, pointing out that he ran a social media management centre at Ahmedabad. The Congress was trying to find ways of counteracting it, he added.

Delegates criticised the fact that the secular versus communal issue did not figure prominently either in the speeches of its leaders, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, or during discussions.

Fear of “NaMo” was evident in the new-found focus on the urban middle-class, a hard core constituency of the Gujarat chief minister. The educated middle class' disenchantment with prime minister Manmohan Singh, whom they had wholeheartedly endorsed in 2009, is evident in the public protests against corruption and gender violence. Winning this demographic back, particularly the youth among the urban educated middle-class, has become a priority for the Congress.

But the most clear evidence of NaMo-phobia was Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde's speech at the chintan shivir, launching an inane attack on the BJP and RSS for running “Hindu terror” camps. The allegation, coming as it did immediately after Rahul Gandhi was formally anoninted party number 2, was totally out of context. One reporter, tongue-in-cheek, asked Shinde if he would ban the RSS as a terrorist outfit. The home minister had no reply.

The Congress leadership chose to fire its guns against Modi from Shinde's shoulder. It was sabre-rattling of the most transparent kind, a warning that if Modi were to take on a pivotal role in the BJP, the central government would seek to undermine him.

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