Sonia Gandhi did not name Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi while using the phrase “merchants of death” at her rally in Navsari on December 1. This is expected to be the basic thrust of the Congress’s defence before the Election Commission in response to its notice that she had prima facie violated the code of conduct.
With the Congress continuing its flip flop on whether Sonia had actually referred to Modi while making the remark, party sources noted on Monday that she had used the expression “merchants of death” (maut ke saudagar) in the plural form, as a collective reference to the Gujarat establishment which included Modi and not in the singular which would have meant Modi alone. “We all saw on TV how the statement was in the context of the entire administration,” said spokesman Shakeel Ahmed.
Sonia did not mention names, but Modi did name Sohrabuddin and justify his killing. “Any attempt to equate the two statements is outrageous.”
Following the notice, the Congress set up a committee to formulate a response. The panel including Pranab Mukherjee, Motilal Vora, Suresh Pachauri and Abhishek Singhvi met on Sunday and again on Monday and decided that Singhvi would draft the reply, but Mukherjee would clear it before it was sent.
Sonia and Digvijay Singh, who was given notice over his “Hindu terrorism” remark have to respond by Tuesday noon.
Shakeel’s comments constitute yet another shift in the party stand on Sonia’s remarks. On Saturday, Singhvi said Sonia’s comment referred to Modi and the party was not apologetic about it. Earlier, Sibal said Sonia had not taken names and her remarks were aimed at state functionaries. A day later Sibal withdrew his statement.