Prime Minister Narendra Modi's remarks on how there was a time when people felt a sense of shame at being born in India have triggered a fierce debate on social media over whether he had insulted India abroad or simply spoken the bitter truth. Now, the government has hit back sharply at the Congress' criticism of these remarks. Speaking to NDTV on The TownHall, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had a question for the Congress. "Did you forget about India's image abroad when the United States of America denied Narendra Modi a visa? Did you protest even once? Did you stand up even once for an elected Chief Minister of India?" she asked Congress leader and former minister Sachin Pilot who was debating her on the same programme.
Mr Pilot argued back, saying, "It's unbecoming of the Prime Minister to carry domestic politics to foreign soils. When he travels abroad, he is my Prime Minister too, isnt he?" "He can say what he wants to in Patna or Delhi, no problem," Mr Pilot said, adding that outside India, no one should present the image of the country as "a fractured nation".
Ms Sitharaman accused the Congress of doublespeak and hypocrisy. "When 63 MPs, yours among them wrote to US senators to block Modi's visa, where was your worry for India's image abroad?"
When Mr Pilot retorted that Mr Modi should direct his question on visas to US President Barack Obama and asked "Why do you want to be his best friend now?", Ms Sitharaman said, "Very lame, very lame response, expected better from Sachin.
On the other hand the shameless Congress has decided to defame the ruling BJP with 24 press conferences across the country, as it builds a counter-campaign against the Narendra Modi government, which is planning a mega celebration to mark one year in office.
From now till May 26, the first anniversary of the Modi government being sworn in, the opposition party plans 100 pressers where party spokespersons will attempt to discredit the BJP-led coalition government at the Centre.
Today's 24 pressers will see Congress leaders travel to cities like Chennai, where Milind Deora will speak, and Srinagar where veteran Shakeel Ahmed will attack the central government.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has set the pace for the Congress offensive ever since he returned from a two-month sabbatical abroad. In a new, aggressive avatar, the 44-year-old, billed to take over as Congress chief soon, has launched almost daily attacks on the BJP and particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Tuesday, as the PM was flying home after a three-nation tour, the Congress' Kapil Sibal criticised him for his remarks in speeches he made in China and South Korea.
The Prime Minister had said in Seoul, South Korea, "There was a time when people used to say we don't know what sins we committed in our past life that we were born in Hindustan. Is this any country, is this any government...we will leave. There was a time when people used to leave, businessmen used to say we can't do business here. These people are ready to come back. The mood has changed." He had made similar comments in Shanghai, and has faced a backlash on social media.
"We are really pained over the remarks as no leader in independent India has ever made such a statement", Mr Sibal, a former Union Minister said yesterday, also criticising the PM's decision to grant the facility of e-visas to Chinese tourists.
The anniversary that the BJP is celebrating also marks a year of the Congress' worst performance in national elections ever. It was reduced to a humiliating 44 seats in Parliament, a number that does not even qualify it for a Leader of Opposition.
In assembly elections held since, the party has lost states that it ruled for years and Mr Gandhi's recent efforts are seen as attempts to pull his party out of the morass.