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Congress struggles to control fallout of netas’ self-goals amid Gujarat elections

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NEW DELHI: With PM Narendra Modi ever-willing to latch on to gaffes from Congressmen, the opposition party is grappling with the riddle of controlling the message during the ongoing Gujarat campaign.

Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “neech” remark+
is third in a series of mis-steps or rows from the Congress camp that Modi and BJP have seized upon and turned into a major subject of stump speeches .

Following the Aiyar comment, senior party leader and former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit tweeted, “I strongly condemn attempts made by some Congress leaders to weaken @OfficeOfRG & @INCIndia. If these leaders truly believe in the Congress ideology, they should be more circumspect in their choice of words. We need to all strengthen the hands of our President to be.”

Earlier, a row flared up over claims that Rahul Gandhi wrote his name in a
register meant for “non Hindus”+
during his visit to Somnath temple, and Kapil Sibal’s demand in the SC that Ayodhya hearing be put off till 2019 figured prominently in
Modi’s campaign speech+
on Wednesday. Congressmen believe they were able to contain the fallout of the row that BJP stoked by repeatedly questioning Rahul reveal his faith in the wake of his name figuring in the register for “non Hindus”. Congress called BJP’s question “silly”, proclaiming Rahul was “janeu-dhari” (sacred thread-wearing) and “Shiv-bhakt”. Party managers believe while intellectuals may have sniggered at Congress talking about Rahul’s caste, the implication that he was a Brahmin immediately quelled the row that was tailored to BJP’s forte of communal polarisation.

There are lingering concerns about
Sibal’s demand in the SC+
that Ayodhya hearing be deferred till the next Lok Sabha polls. As BJP claimed that Sibal’s stance in the court was also the Congress’ view on Ayodhya temple and the PM elaborated on it in his speeches, Congress distanced itself from the lawyer politician.

However, there are doubts if the party has been able to fully contain whatever damage it could do. Aiyar’s case appeared to have breached the limits of tolerance of Congress managers. Rahul took to Twitter to slam Aiyar’s “neech” remark against the PM and asked him to apologise. The veteran Congressman obliged.

But it was well after BJP and the PM had been handed an emotive issue.

Updated: December 8, 2017 — 1:53 pm

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