[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Karnataka elections had provided a foretaste of how future elections would be fought. It had all the ingredients of gutter politics: lies, concoctions, back-stabbing and all the works. Although the 2019 General Elections are still off by a long way, political parties have launched their campaigns and the dirty tricks are in full flow already.
The latest skirmish is over PM Modi’s poser to Rahul Gandhi whether his party is only for Muslims and, more specifically, Muslim men, in an obvious taunt over the Congress party’s vacillation about the passage of the triple talaq Bill in the Rajya Sabha. The other provocation was Rahul’s recent meeting with Muslim intellectuals, where, according to an Urdu newspaper, apprehensions were raised about the soft Hindutva policy of the Congress and the party president assured Muslims that his party was for them.
Modi’s well-directed attack seems to have hit the Congress below the belt and the party is desperate to put up a credible defence, although, so far, it has appeared to be lacking in firepower. Talaq specialist and former minister Salman Khurshid was on hand, taking on the Prime Minister, but he came up with a rather weak counter that Modi “knows nothing” about the issue and must not speak on “subjects that he doesn’t know about”. The Congress reaction betrayed the fear that Modi knows enough about the subject to be able to pit Muslim women against their men, which the BJP successfully had done in the UP Assembly elections.
The Congress has also sought to counter Modi by saying he is sensing defeat and accusing him of “spreading the poison of hatred and division”. The PM combined Rahul’s alleged assurance to Muslim leaders with an assertion by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that Muslims have the first right over the Centre’s resources. Congress leader Randeep Surjewala seemed to use all his persuasive powers to counter Modi, but his attempts were frustrated by newspaper archives, which had clippings of Manmohan Singh’s 2006 speech at the 52nd meeting of the National Development Council in Delhi, where he had stressed that plans for minorities, particularly Muslims, must have the first claim to resources so that the benefits of development reached them equitably. The growing public perception that the Congress is now dropping the soft Hindutva strategy, which had taken Rahul Gandhi on his temple runs during the Gujarat and Karnataka elections, has added to the embarrassment. BJP leaders have tried to make the most of the tactical shift by taunting the Congress that Rahul, who had called himself a “Janeu-dhari” wants to now claim he is a “Muslim-dhari”. Having realised that soft Hindutva had not taken the party anywhere, the Congress is apparently back to the time-tested model of minority appeasement to regain lost ground.