Unfazed by the BJP’s criticism for raising questions on the government’s handling of the Chinese incursions and its near-isolation in the Opposition ranks, the Congress, at its Working Committee (CWC) meeting Tuesday, is set to launch fresh fusillade at the government.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s strongly worded statement on Monday is an indication of the thinking in the party.
Party leaders, sources say, believe that the Galwan Valley bloodbath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s subsequent statement and clarifications, if used effectively, can provide political ammunition to counter the BJP’s jingoistic nationalism. The party believes Modi is facing perhaps the most difficult foreign policy questions of his tenure so far, a front on which he has invested heavily, with challenges coming from even the otherwise friendly Nepal. And unlike in the case of Pakistan, the Chinese incursions will not provide BJP an opportunity to try and polarise domestically, Congress leaders feel.
The party has ratcheted up pressure on the government step by step.
It first questioned Prime Minister Modi’s silence on the Chinese transgression and accused his government of keeping other parties in the dark. It also reminded him of limitations of his personalised brand of diplomacy.
The party then accused the government of having sent Indian soldiers unarmed in harm’s way.
After Modi’s remarks on Friday, it now accuses the government of having surrendered Indian territory. This echoes the gambit the Congress played in 1999.
In the summer of 1999, as the Kargil war was about to reach its climax, the CWC met and issued a statement accusing the then A B Vajpayee government of having “deliberately kept the nation in the dark” about Pakistani incursion. The party argued that the government did so since it would have undone the ”much-vaunted Lahore spirit”, and “revelation of the truth” would have exposed Vajpayee to “ridicule” before the nation.
The CWC, which met in July 1999, also accused the Vajpayee government of “negligence” that would “cost the nation many brave and precious lives”.
The Congress may not see a Kargil parallel in Galwan Valley, but then, as now, the dominant opinion in the grand old party is that it should target the Prime Minister over the incursions. The Congress then had to battle Vajpayee’s image. It has been battling Modi’s charisma since 2014.
The party had then alleged that the Vajpayee government did not show the will to act despite having information about the incursion. At the all-party meeting last week, Congress president Sonia Gandhi asked whether the government believes there was a “failure of intelligence.”
What is interesting is that the Congress’s attack on the Vajpayee government in 1999 could not resurrect its political fortunes. It was trounced in the Lok Sabha elections held months later. But the BJP, too, could not manage to win even a single seat more than what it had won in 1998 – its tally remained at 182.
The Congress slumped from 141 to 114.
But elections are four years away now, and Congress leaders say they realise that many opposition parties are backing the Modi government. In fact, even the Congress’s allies are not very aggressive. “That only helps us establish that we are the only alternative to the BJP… Rahul Gandhi is perhaps the lone Opposition voice now,” a senior party leader said.
And that perhaps is another factor in the Congress’s strategy – the resurrection of Rahul Gandhi, or an attempt at that.
And unlike in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections when Rahul did not get any support from the senior leaders for his ‘chowkidar chor hai’ campaign, this time many senior party leaders feel Modi’s statement, and the subsequent clarification, has dented his credibility and can be turned into a genuine political issue.
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