(Bloomberg) -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “panicked” when faced with Chinese aggression two years ago and has consequently “trivialized” the country’s foreign policy for domestic political gains, opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi said.

In an interview with BloombergQuint on the sidelines of an election rally on Friday, Gandhi attacked Modi for mishandling the 2017 military stand-off between India and China in the remote Himalayan region of Doklam near Bhutan. A later informal summit in the Chinese city of Wuhan between Modi and President Xi Jinping in 2018 showed Modi capitulated before his Chinese hosts, Gandhi added.

“Narendra Modi was given a clear message from China in Doklam, and he went to China and bowed in front of them, that’s what happened,” he said. “Narendra Modi panicked, buckled, and went there and had a conversation with no agenda. When there’s a massive issue on the border called Doklam, no agenda? That’s complete submission.”

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As the world’s largest democracy continues with a grueling, six-week-long election, Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have regularly deployed the prime minister’s foreign policy record on the campaign trail. At rallies, the prime minister has said his willingness to use India’s armed forces -- from widely-publicized cross-border “surgical strikes” in 2016 to sending the Indian Air Force to bomb targets inside Pakistan earlier this year -- is deterring the country’s enemies.

Gandhi, who told BloombergQuint his Congress party fought a “lean campaign” compared with the well-financed BJP, said former Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also launched attacks against Pakistan, but didn’t politicize them, unlike Modi.

“We did six surgical strikes, but Manmohan Singh didn’t do them, the strategic architecture of India did it,” he said. “Making these speeches and trivializing everything just to get a couple of votes, that’s not foreign policy.”

The Congress leader also said Modi has “taken foreign policy away from the experts,” and criticized him for recent comments in which Modi said cloud cover may have helped Indian warplanes avoid detection by Pakistani radar. These comments, based on what Modi said was his “raw wisdom,” were widely mocked online and criticized by military strategists for being untrue.

“He’s giving the air force people advice, that we should not delay the strike because clouds will protect our planes from radar,” Gandhi said. “He has taken strategy and made it into a circus.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Iain Marlow in New Delhi at imarlow1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at rpollard2@bloomberg.net, Abhay Singh, Chris Kay

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