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Last Updated Saturday September 16 2017 03:47 PM IST

The line between personal attacks and political critiques

Sachidananda Murthy
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The line between personal attacks and political critiques Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi

The heat of the Uttar Pradesh elections has added more acidity to the mutual antipathy of prime minister Narendra Modi and the Congress party. Personal attacks have been intense, and the Congress has decided to boycott the prime minister during the next part of the budget session, which commences in March second week.

Admirers of Modi are happy that he has taken the battle to his predecessor Manmohan Singh, while not sparing Rahul Gandhi, who is the prime minister's frequent target in the Congress. Rahul was quick to call Modi as a person who peeps into bathrooms in response to his criticism that Manmohan Singh is so careful that he even wears a raincoat while taking a bath to avoid stains.

But the Congress, after hitting back at Modi, seems to have taken the fight too far in threatening to boycott Modi, unless the prime minister apologizes. This is not the first time such personalized attacks have taken place.

Rajiv Gandhi had famously said in parliament that he will make the opposition leaders run to their grandmothers, using an old Hindi expression. He had also accused them of sticking to their seats in Rajya Sabha like limpets, which caused a huge uproar, since only opposition members in Lok Sabha had resigned their seats, ahead of the 1989 Lok Sabha elections.

Now, Modi has said that he has the horoscopes of all the Congress leaders in his possession and only decency has refrained him from taking action against their scams. He also said the maximum number of Internet jokes are about Rahul Gandhi, making the Congress vice president retort that Modi spends his time searching the Internet and reading horoscopes.

Modi's reference to the scandals of the Congress has not gone down well, as critics feel he should have initiated prosecution of Congress leaders for their scams, instead of threatening to take action if the Congress did not behave. By telling the Congress not to go too far if it did not want its leaders exposed, Modi's position is seen as bullying. There is also criticism that he is speaking out of frustration. Nevertheless, in his defence, the BJP supporters say that for two and half years, he had refrained from going after Congress leaders despite their monumental scams.

Pratap Simha, a first-term Congress MP, has said if the Congress can call Modi as a merchant of death or as a tea seller, the party should have expected him to hit back in the same language.

Earlier too, Manmohan Singh was attacked by the then leader of opposition, L.K. Advani, as the invisible prime minister, who presided over the most corrupt regime in independent India. Advani had kept attacking prime minister Narasimha Rao as the mouni baba (the silent person), and Modi too had called Manmohan Singh as mouni baba.

The Congress has now dared Modi to come out with the scam details against its leaders. There is frustration among Congress supporters that no major case has been initiated by the Modi government against Manmohan Singh and his ministers, as the cases in the 2G spectrum case and coal allocation scam had already been filed during the second term of Manmohan Singh. Now, if the assembly elections go very badly for the BJP, the prime minister may worry more about his opponents than pursuing his developmental agenda, reversing his promises from the Red Fort that he wants a moratorium of 10 years on contentious issues, and that he would take action on scams, only when the files come before him.

While it is important to bring out the skeletons of the Congress government, it may be better for the prime minister not to further delay the appointment of the Lokpal, who has all the powers to investigate and prosecute ministers, including prime minister, for committing scams and causing losses to the government. But the bitter verbal fights may continue beyond the Uttar Pradesh elections, as the next election later this year is for control of Modi's home state Gujarat.

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