New Delhi: Coming down heavily on the Congress for considering "surname as a political brand", Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Tuesday said that the BJP will "gladly accept" the challenge of 2019 general elections if the Congress wants it to be between Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the son of lesser-known parents, and someone who is known for his parentage.
In a Facebook post titled ' What was the name of Sardar Patel's father', Jaitley said that in a dynastic party like the Congress, talent and merit has no space and the crowd around the family is the cadre.
Jaitley's post comes days after some Congress leaders stoked a controversy by naming family members of PM Modi.
"If the Congress party wants the 2019 elections to be between Prime Minister Modi, who is the son of lesser-known parents and someone who is known only for his parentage rather than capacity, merit and competence, the BJP would gladly accept the challenge. Let this be the agenda for 2019," the minister said.
Jaitley said while the age of the Prime Minister's mother was made a subject matter of the electoral debate, his father's anonymity was commented upon as an inadequate credential of the prime minister.
"The debate whether India should be a dynastic democracy has been ignited by a self-goal of the Congress Party... The argument given was that if you represent the legacy of a well-known family, it is a political point in your favour. Millions of talented political workers who come from modest family backgrounds would fail by the Congress test of leadership. Merit, talent, ability to inspire and lead would not be a virtue. The Congress considers only a great surname as a political brand," Jaitley added.
He said that even his "well-informed friends" did not have a "definitive answer" when asked to name Mahatma Gandhi's father, Sardar Patel's father or his wife.
"The reason for this is simple. Decades of Congress rule, naming colonies, localities, cities, bridges, airports, railway stations, schools, colleges, universities, stadiums after one family was intended to declare the ‘Gandhis' as India's royalty. They were ‘officially glamorised' as the blue-blooded family of India. The others did not matter," Jaitley said.
Mahatma Gandhi's father was Karamchand Uttamchand Gandhi, while Sardar Patel's wife's name was Diwali Ba and father was Jhaverbhai Patel. He said although Sardar Patel, who was a frontline leader of the freedom movement and was the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of India, negotiated the transfer of power with the British, the Congress government rejected the proposal to build his statue at Vijay Chowk in the national capital.
"The country had to be satisfied with the installation of his statue at a traffic round-about on Parliament Street," Jaitley said.
He said the dangers of officially glamorising one family at the cost of those who made a far greater contribution "is dangerous" both for the nation as also for the party to which they belong.
"The contribution of other great stalwarts like Patel and Subhash Chandra Bose is downplayed. Members of one family are projected as larger than life. Their aberrations become national aberrations. The party adopts them as its ideology," Jaitley added.
He said the silver lining is that country is changing and aspirational India judges parties and leaders very harshly.
"They don't accept whoever is imposed. They ask difficult and penetrating questions and their yardstick is very tough. They look for leaders of integrity, they look for men and women who can inspire them, who are decisive and can lead the nation. To them surnames don't matter – competence and capacity does," Jaitley said.
There were controversies over the comments of Congress leader Raj Babbar who had likened the falling rupee to the age of PM Modi's mother.
"Before becoming PM, Narendra Modi used to say that the value of the rupee has fallen to a level where it is almost the same as the age of the then-PM (Manmohan Singh). Now, it is inching towards the age of Modi's respected mother," Babbar had said.
Congress leader Vilas Muttemwar said, "Who knew you (Modi) before you became the PM. Even now, nobody knows the name of your father, but everybody knows the name of (Congress president) Rahul Gandhi's father," Muttemwar was heard saying in a video.
Muttemwar, who hails from Vidarbha region, however, later said that the video in circulation was distorted.