NEW DELHI: “Narendra Modi jawab do” slogans rent the air as the Rajya Sabha was adjourned repeatedly as Congress MPs walked into the well of the House to protest remarks made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his election meetings on Sunday. “Madam Soniaji, aap ki yeh himmat? You are spreading lies… about the helicopter deal,” Modi said. “Our government has not mentioned your name or your party’s name in the last two years. The names have come from a court in Italy.” Modi asked the crowd.

And he went on, “Do you have anyone you know in Italy? Do you have relatives in Italy? Have you been to Italy? Does anyone know you in Italy? Everyone knows who has an Italian connection.” The Congress MP’s held up proceedings in the Upper House demanding an explanation from the Prime Minister, with senior leaders pointing out that no such allegation had been made during the discussion on the AgustaWestland Deal in Parliament by even the Defence Minister or any other BJP leader, and wanted to know what court the Prime Minister was referring to.

The anger was palpable, both in and outside Parliament as the BJP and Congress have crossed swords on the AgustaWestland issue. In between the adjournments of the Rajya Sabha, CPI(M) leader pointed out that the PM should not be speaking outside the House on policy matters. He said that the Opposition had asked for a Supreme Court supervised CBI enquiry into the defence deal but the with the “the point is that the policy of the govt is to enquire ,and before that policy is implemented by the government can the Prime Minister make allegations outside Parliament while the Parliament is in session, that is the issue?”

As several Opposition MPs pointed out, the CBI comes under the Prime Minister and his indicting remarks would clearly weigh on the investigators.

The Congress versus BJP faceoff has sharpened considerably, with PM Modi clearly taking the lead. In fact this has been the flavour of Parliament proceedings this session, with the BJP taking a definitive decision to target the main Opposition party both in and outside Parliament. Why? Considering that the current Assembly elections are not witnessing a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP in any state, except Assam where the polling is over. The reasons given by a cross section of MPs can be summed up as follows:

  1. The BJP has always seen Congress as its direct adversary in politics. This comes from the assessment that most of the regional parties can be controlled, but the Congress party must not be allowed to increase its space. In other words, the BJP growth outside its core hard right constituency is correlated directly to a shrinking Congress;
  2. In this quest, PM Modi has trained his guns at the First Family, with Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi in his direct sights. Robert Vadra is seen as vulnerable on the issue of corruption, and is thus part of the expanding probe that the BJP has decided on.
  3. The BJP intention is to make the Nehru-Gandhi family the symbolic face for corruption associated with the Congress, and launch an offensive on the same. This is in preparation for not just the Uttar Pradesh elections but for the next Lok Sabha polls to ensure that there is no revival of the Congress in the states.
  4. This, in the BJP assessment, will pay dividends particularly if its own Ministers and leaders remain out of the ‘corruption fold’. Faced with flak from within, from members like Arun Shourie and Ram Jethmalani, for not living up to its promise for bringing back black money, or taking action on past corrupt deals, the BJP/RSS is using the Nehru-Gandhi family to get the media eyeballs necessary for its anti-corruption campaign.
  5. Besides, the attack on the Nehru-Gandhi family, the BJP hopes, will keep the Congress contained in defending the family and not taking up other issues as has been its strategy for the past two years. This coupled with death threats ---as the one just received against Rahul Gandhi on his way to address a meeting in Pune---the BJP leadership hopes will keep the First Family indoors.
  6. By focusing on corruption the BJP hopes to isolate the Congress from the other opposition parties in Parliament and thereby break the unity that had emerged in earlier sessions. It has succeeded to the extent that the regional parties have distanced themselves from the Congress on the AgustaWestland deal.

The Congress party counter to this BJP “strategy” is as follows:

  1. Rahul Gandhi is in charge and he is not going to be contained. Nor is Sonia Gandhi as was evident in her remarks to Congress members at the recent dharna organised by the party where she warned not just the BJP, but also the headquarters at Nagpur, in a reference to the RSS. Congress leaders insist that they have never seen the Congress President so bold and determined;
  2. The Congress has changed its strategy from being the one party to an ally in states as and where possible. This worked in Bihar where it had allied with the Janata Dal(U) and RJD, and seems to have also worked from initial reports in West Bengal where the party has allied with the Left.
  3. Despite the attack the Congress will not give up on the other issues, and after Parliament both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi will be campaigning for the forthcoming UP elections, as well as visiting the districts reeling under drought. So far, however, they have not travelled to the drought affected areas at all.
  4. The BJP attack is actually reviving the Congress party, as it is now being seen as the main opposition party against the government that is fast losing ground.