NEW DELHI: Congress General Secretary for Uttar Pradesh (East) Priyanka Gandhi set the tone for the Congress response to the Pulwama Terror attack when she decided to opt out of a press conference convened by her in Lucknow. After condemning the attack she left. And since then the Congress party has not found its voice, allowing the Bharatiya Janata Party to reap the electoral benefits of the dastardly terror attack in the crucial first days.

“She could have used the opportunity to state a well thought out view, a substantial and sensible alternative but she let the opportunity gp, “ a scholar supportive of the Congress party told The Citizen.

As mobs rule Jammu baying for blood, and attacks on Kashmiri students are reported from other cities of India in particular Dehradun, the main Opposition party has fallen silent. Asked about this a senior Congress leader from UP told The Citizen, “the party seems to be confused. And thinks that any comment on Kashmir and Pakistan would help the BJP in this polarised campaign, and go against the Congress party.”

He admitted that the BJP has got a head start on the terror-Pakistan-Kashmir-Muslim issue and would try to keep it alive till the elections. He further added, “we all know that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying to fool the Indian masses but we do not have the courage insofar as this incident is concerned to expose him.”

The Congress is worried about appearing to be pro-Muslim in a discourse where the narrative has been set by the BJP. The party campaign till now was based on corruption and Rafale, coalition politics, farmers and unemployment but has realised that these have been eclipsed---at least for now--by the emotional campaign launched by the BJP on the heels of the Pulwama attack. Unable to devise an effective strategy the Congress has fallen silent, and no one wants to go on the record on the terror strike apart from a token, and suitably standard condemnation.

A senior Congress leader, as much in the dark as many others in the party, said that he expected that the Congress was “waiting for the heat to be reduced” over the next few days. What then? “Then we will go back to our campaign on unemployment and corruption,” he said. What about questions for the government on the Pulwama terror attack, how did it happen under their watch? He fell silent, saying he has no idea.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s fire seems to have turned into ice since the attack. While regional parties like the Trinamool Congress and the Janata Dal (S) have started raising questions about intelligence failure, and the social media is abuzz with netizens ceaselessly talking of fake news, of manufactured propaganda, the Congress remains abysmally silent. As it has done through the four years wherever Kashmir, Pakistan or for that matter Muslims have been at the centre of news.

An opposition leader who did not want to be quoted at this stage said that the Congress is “terrified of losing the majority vote, and is playing right into the BJP’s trap. It does not know what position to take, is scared of being hit on this issue that concerns minorities, and has really gone underground.” More so as a troll campaign has targeted Rahul Gandhi, with fake photographs even before he has said a word on the terror attack.

Rahul Gandhi and his sister have disappeared from view since, with even UP left on its own these days. Neither want to meet the media, or say anything beyond the condemnation that the Congress president has already done. There is no strategy on Kashmir, no talking points about the intelligence bandobust, about dialogue and talks, for fear of a BJP orchestrated over-reaction. Congress member Navjot Singh Sidhu has been a recent victim for suggesting dialogue with Pakistan, as a result of which Sony TV threw him out of a popular television show.

There has been not a word from the Congress top brass about whether they support or denounce his moderate views.

Similarly Congress leader from Rampur Noor Bano was singled out for a vicious troll attack on the same issue. The silence from the leadership has now scared her so much that she was unwilling to say a word on the issue to this correspondent. “I have nothing to say” she repeatedly said after a Twitter campaign asking the Congress party to sack her.

The Congress party has become very uncomfortable with the issues of Pakistan and Kashmir, and also about raising concerns and worries of the Indian minorities. Despite the recent violence in Aligarh Muslim University, the Congress kept mum. During is election campaigns in recent Assembly elections it barely referred to lynchings by cow mobs in the specific states. And now on Pulwama it has no idea what alternative formulation to offer, with the Congress President being advised by the old guard to keep his counsel and his head ---along with that of the party---above Pulwama waters. The largest opposition party has thus, opted out of a crucial issue that could well determine defeat or victory in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.