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Two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself took up the BJP hype about his Gandhi’s alleged – and since refuted by many – “Congress is party of Muslims” remark, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday, July 17, responded by saying Congress stands for the exploited, marginalised and the persecuted, and does not discriminate on the basis of caste, religion or belief.

“I stand with the last person in the line. The exploited, marginalised and the persecuted. Their religion, caste or beliefs matter little to me. I seek out those in pain and embrace them. I erase hatred and fear. I love all living beings. I am the Congress,” he said in the tweet.

PM Modi had questioned the Congress whether it worked only for the interests of Muslim men. “All I want to ask is, is the party only for Muslim men or is there place for women in it too? These people block laws in Parliament and do not allow it to function,” Modi had said at a rally in Azamgarh on July 15.

Modi’s attack came ahead of the upcoming Monsoon session of Parliament and indicates the line BJP will take in the verbal battles in the country’s supreme law making institution. The triple talaq Bill has been passed by the Lok Sabha but is pending in the Rajya Sabha.

Attacking Gandhi over an alleged remark attributed to him in Urdu daily ‘Inquilaab’ during his interaction with Muslim intellectuals, Modi said, “I have read in newspapers that the Congress naamdar (dynast) has said that the Congress is a party of Muslims. This debate has been on for the last two days. I am not surprised because during the Manmohan Singh government, the prime minister himself that said that Muslims have the first claim on the country’s resources….”

The Congress slammed the BJP over the issue, accusing the ruling party of trying to create a Hindu-Muslim divide with an eye on 2019 elections.

The Congress has repeatedly denied that their president ever made the remarks at a meeting with Muslim intellectuals, as reported by the Urdu newspaper “Daily Inquilaab”. The comment was seized by the BJP and, starting with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, one or the other BJP leader or minister has been harping on the theme every day with PM Modi himself referring to it at the rally on Saturday.

The ruling party persisted with the attack on Monday, with human resources development minister Prakash Javadekar wondering why Gandhi was “keeping mum” on the issue. “You said openly that the Congress is a party of Muslims. Your appeasement policy had damaged the country to a great extent earlier too. The whole history of partition is also a testimony of your policy of appeasement,” he said.

Muslim intellectuals at the meeting with Rahul Gandhi have denied the comments attributed to him by the Urdu daily Inquilaab.

Inquilaab reporter Mumtaz Alam Rizwi said he stood by his report, but Gandhi’s comments were nuanced.  “I never used the term Muslim party. Rahul Gandhi said Congress is a party of Muslims. He said ‘haan, (yes), because Muslims are weakened, they have become another version of Dalits in the country’,” said Rizwi.

On Sunday, the “Inquilab” published another report claiming its version has been corroborated by the Congress minority cell chief, who strongly denied it, reported NDTV.

After Rahul Gandhi’s tweet on Tuesday, BJP leader Sambit Patra said, “Rahul, You may be standing in line with people at the end, but the people are not standing with you. They know the Congress ‘family rule’ did not do anything for them.”

Patra insisted that the latter’s statement at a recent meeting of Islamic scholars was proof that the party was bent on championing the Muslim community.

“Spreading the message that it is a party for Muslims is a deliberate conspiracy by the Congress,” said Patra soon after Gandhi put up a Twitter post stating that his was a party that aims to embrace everybody regardless of religion, caste or beliefs. He also termed the Congress president’s tweet as a “confession” that his party belonged to Muslims.

He also claimed that there was “competition” between All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi and Gandhi over who will play politics as per the ideology of Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

“Rahul Gandhi said in his tweet that he loves all living beings. In reality, he only loves the country’s top seat of power,” Patra added.

Earlier, the Congress had attacked PM Modi for speaking “untruths” at Azamgarh rally and demanded that PM Modi apologise for calling it a party for Muslim men only, saying the remark showed his “sick mentality”.

Terming the Prime Minister a “peddler of untruths”, the Congress also challenged him to discuss his allegations against the opposition party in Parliament during the Monsoon Session beginning July 18.

“The Prime Minister has continuously hurt the dignity of his office. We strictly oppose what he said yesterday. It shows his sick mentality and twisted mindset,” senior Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said.

“There is an attempt by him to divide society… His main opposition, the INC, led the national movement, spearheaded the fight for independence… to call it a Muslim party does not behove a PM. He should apologise for his statement. His sick mindset is an issue of national concern. The Prime Minister gives out statements which are wrong as per history and facts and he should apologise for the same,” Anand Sharma said.

The Congress appeals to the Prime Minister to desist from making “false” statements, he added.

Anand Sharma said PM Modi was the Prime Minister of the entire country and not only of the BJP. He said PM Modi had “less knowledge of history and writes his own history”.

Sharma also said that while the Congress was against triple talaq, his party wanted to follow the rules of the parliamentary system.

“The Congress does not need certification of nationalism from somebody who are the descendants of not only non-participants of the freedom movement but also active collaborators of the British,” he said.

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