The "wisdom of the electors" should be respected - for "they know who to vote for and why" - Kapil Sibal said Wednesday, as the senior Congress leader balanced criticism of Rahul Gandhi's remark about Kerala voters with defending his colleague from the BJP's hawkish attacks.
Mr Sibal, who is among a small group to have openly questioned party leadership as it lurches from one electoral defeat to another, said that while Rahul Gandhi could better explain his comment, the BJP's allegations - that the Congress is trying to "divide and rule" - were "laughable".
"I am nobody to comment on what he (Mr Gandhi) said. He said it and he can explain in what context he said it... (but) we must respect electors in the country and not denigrate their wisdom. They know who to vote for and why," Mr Sibal told news agency ANI.
"(And) it is laughable that that the BJP is saying the Congress is trying to divide the country. This is a government that has divided people since it came to power in 2014," he added.
On Tuesday Mr Gandhi - in Kerala to campaign for Assembly polls - said: "For the first 15 years I was a MP in the north. I had got used to a different type of politics. Coming to Kerala was very refreshing as suddenly I found that people are interested in issues... and not just superficially..."
"There is intelligence with which you do your politics," Mr Gandhi added.
The comment was pounced upon by the BJP, with union ministers mocking and reminding him that the voters against whom he was "spewing venom" had rejected him in Uttar Pradesh.
BJP chief JP Nadda was among those who tweeted and said: "A few days back he was in the northeast, spewing venom against the western part of India. Today in the south he is spewing venom against the north. Divide and rule politics won't work... People have rejected this politics..."
A few days back he was in the Northeast, spewing venom against the western part of India.— Jagat Prakash Nadda (@JPNadda) February 23, 2021
Today in the South he is spewing venom against the North.
Divide and rule politics won't work, @RahulGandhi Ji!
People have rejected this politics. See what happened in Gujarat today! https://t.co/KbxZSJ4sdt
The BJP's attack on Mr Gandhi was quick and severe, with union ministers S Jaishankar, Hardeep Singh Puri, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Dharmendra Pradhan and Kiren Rijiju all taking potshots, accusing him of trying to "divide and rule" and labelling him "the man who ran to Kerala".
Mr Gandhi is currently the Lok Sabha MP from Kerala's Wayanad.
He was earlier the MP from UP's Amethi - a Gandhi stronghold flipped by the BJP's Smriti Irani in 2019. He contested from both seats, and only retained his MP status after winning in the former.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala on Wednesday also defended Rahul Gandhi, accusing the BJP of spreading a "toolkit" - a reference to the case against climate activist Disha Ravi, who is accused of sedition - to divide the country.
Mr Surjewala called attention to what he said were the real issues before the country - falling GDP and the overall state of an economy that is "virtually in ruin". He said the real issues also included the fact that people had "lost their right" to dissent and express themselves.
With input from ANI, PTI