The Bharatiya Janata Party on Tuesday accused Congress leader Rahul Gandhi of trying to divide India after he spoke about how politics in North and South India were different at a rally in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram city. Gandhi is the Lok Sabha MP from Wayanad district.

The Congress leader said that he had become used to a “different kind of politics” when he was an MP in North India, ANI reported. “For me, coming to Kerala was very refreshing as suddenly I found that people are interested in issues, and not just superficially but going into details of issues,” Gandhi was quoted as saying by the news agency.

The Congress leader added that seeing “intelligent” politics in Kerala was a learning experience for him. “I was talking to some students in the United States and I said that I really enjoy going to Kerala,” Gandhi said, according to ANI. “It’s not just affection but the way you do your politics. If I might say so, the intelligence with which you do your politics.”

After the Congress leader’s comments, the BJP was quick to accuse Gandhi of trying to “divide and rule” India. “A few days back he [Gandhi] was in the North East, spewing venom against the western part of India,” BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda tweeted. “Today in the South he is spewing venom against the North. Divide and rule politics won’t work, Rahul Gandhi Ji! People have rejected this politics. See what happened in Gujarat today [a reference to civic body election results].”

Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri also heavily criticised Gandhi. “The man who ran to Kerala to save his Lok Sabha seat questions the intelligence of North Indians, including those who faithfully voted for his family for generations!” Puri tweeted. “Fact is...he was forced to run because of non performance and lack of development.”

Puri added that instead of “accepting failure and ineptitude” for results, Gandhi was trying to imply that he had changed his constituency to Wayanad from Amethi as “voters lacked intelligence”. “It is this combination of arrogance and selfishness which is responsible for the state which Congress today finds itself in,” he added.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar spoke about his pan-India experiences in response to Gandhi. “I hail from the South,” he tweeted. “I am an MP from a Western state. I was born, educated and worked in the North. I represented all of India before the world. India is one. Never run down a region; never divide us.”

Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan asked if Rahul Gandhi thought that people in North India were not interested in “issue-based politics”. Instead, he said that North Indians were not interested in Gandhi’s “empty promises”. “You couldn’t understand the pulse of the people from your family’s pocket-borough even after representing it for 15 years,” he said. He was referring to the former Congress bastion in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi. Gandhi lost Amethi to Union minister Smriti Irani during the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

On Tuesday, Pradhan said that like “Amethi was awash with saffron” when people “realised your [Gandhi’s] bluff”, one day residents of Kerala “will make you run away”.

Union minister Smriti Irani also criticised the Congress MP. “The spiteful and vengeful politics of Rahul Gandhi which insults not only the people and voters of Amethi but seeks to create a divide between the north and south India is to be condemned by every Indian citizen,” she told ANI.

‘Government of bankrupt ideas’: Congress hits back

The Congress hit back at BJP leaders for criticising Gandhi. “A government of ‘bankrupt of ideas’, a government ‘thriving on superficiality’, a government ‘shallow on vision’...can be so vicious to spread the toolkit of hatred and division,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted. “Time for India to recommence the ‘politics of issues’ and shun the ‘toxicity of animosity and ill will’ dished out daily.”