Three months after its defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress seems divided on its approach towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the strategy to deal with him.
A day after the party’s Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh said Modi’s governance model was not a “complete negative story” and “demonising him all the time” was not an effective strategy, at least two of his party colleagues supported him, while three others disagreed and said that “without criticism, there will be no democracy”.
This comes in the backdrop of several Congress leaders, including former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Jyotiraditya Scindia, openly supporting the government’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370, and a large section resisting any attempt to water down the party’s position on J&K.
According to a PTI report, Ramesh, while speaking at a book launch on Thursday, said: “He (Modi) talks in a language that connects him with the people. Unless we recognise that he is doing things which people recognise and which have not been done in the past, we are not going to be able to confront (him)… Also, if you are going to demonise him all the time, you are not going to be able to confront him.”
“Let me tell you, it is not a completely negative story when it comes to economics of the governance, the politics of the governance is completely different,” he said, adding, “the social relations that have been created out of his governance model is also completely different”.
Backing him, Abhishek Singhvi, also a Rajya Sabha member, tweeted on Friday: “Always said demonising Modi (is) wrong. Not only is he Prime Minister of the nation, a one-way Opposition actually helps him. Acts are always good, bad and indifferent — they must be judged issue-wise and not person-wise. Certainly, Ujjwala scheme (Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana) is only one amongst other good deeds”.
Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor also supported Ramesh. He said he had been arguing for six years that Modi “should be praised whenever he says or does the right thing, which would add credibility to our criticisms whenever he errs… I welcome others in Opposition coming around to a view for which I was excoriated at the time.”
However, CWC member and the party’s deputy leader in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma told The Indian Express that “it is the duty of the Opposition to criticise the Prime Minister and his government for their acts of commission and omission and for its anti-people policies. That cannot be termed as demonising. Without criticism, there will be no democracy.”
“The Opposition is not expected to be parroting what the government is doing, but questioning and opposing what it feels is wrong or affects the masses,” he said. “We are expected to question, criticise and oppose, otherwise there will be no parliamentary democracy and India will have to suffer totalitarian governments,” he said.
Kumari Selja, another CWC member, too hit out at Ramesh. “I fail to understand what has prompted Jairam Ramesh to say these things, especially in the light of the fact that Jawaharlal Nehru is blamed for anything and everything by this regime,” she said. Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said: “One should not confuse between criticising and demonising. We will criticise if we do not agree with something. Look at the state of the economy. What will we say? Modi is doing a good job? So we will have to criticise. It is our job to criticise as a responsible Opposition. There is a difference between criticising and demonising. We don’t demonise anybody. That is against our culture.”
The Congress, officially, did not reject or endorse the remarks of Ramesh, Singhvi and Tharoor. “In so far as the comments made by various people whom you have referred to are concerned, they are in the best position to clarify or amplify or retract or subtract their remarks,” AICC spokesperson Manish Tewari told reporters.
Soon after the Lok Sabha poll defeat, many Congress leaders had argued that the then party president Rahul Gandhi’s “chowkidar chor hai” campaign against Modi was “negative” and a wrong strategy. Meanwhile, several BJP leaders welcomed Ramesh and Singhvi’s statements. “Law catching up with Sonia Gandhi’s courtier seems to have had a sobering effect on other Congress leaders, including Chidambaram’s lawyer, who like a canary, are suddenly singing praises of Prime Minister Modi,” tweeted BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya.