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Modi says Congress insulted Hindus

A day after justifying the murder of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in a fake encounter, the Gujarat CM unleashes vitriol at the Congress, reports Nagendar Sharma.

india Updated: Dec 06, 2007 10:55 IST

A day after he justified the murder of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in a fake encounter, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi unleashed vitriol at the Congress, saying it had called all Gujarati Hindus ‘terrorists’.

He said this on Wednesday at an election rally in communally sensitive Godhra, where the burning of 59 Hindus triggered the deadly riots of 2002.

He did not mention Sohrabuddin in Godhra, but his two speeches suggest an attempt to create a communal polarization similar to the one that led to the BJP’s victory in the 2002 elections.

“The Congress is defaming Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel by calling the Hindus of Gujarat terrorists,” Modi said with reference to Congressman Digvijay Singh’s statement in Ahmedabad two days ago that the state was in the grip of Hindu extremism. He asked the crowd, “Are you Hindus?”, to which the response was “Yes”. He then asked, “Are you aatankwaadis (terrorists)?” And the crowd roared back, “No.”

Modi went on: “Sonia Gandhi says I am maut ka saudagar (merchant of death). I am not maut ka saudagar, but those at the Centre, defending terrorists, are.” He was referring to the UPA government’s alleged attempt to shield Mohammad Afzal, sentenced to death by the Supreme Court for the December 13, 2001 attack on parliament.

Through Wednesday, political parties condemned Modi’s speech in Mangrol, south Gujarat, the day before, and demanded action from the Election Commission.

Modi had asked what should be done with a man like Sohrabuddin, who kept illegal arms and ammunition. The crowd had responded, “Kill him,” and Modi had said, “Well then, that’s it.”

In Delhi, Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said: “Is this not Mr Death himself speaking? This is a clear admission of guilt. Here is a pre-planned, deliberate, designed, cold blooded murder.” The Sohrabuddin Sheikh case is now in the Supreme Court.

Singhvi added there were “no two views” that if the Congress came to power, it would take “appropriate action” against Modi. The phrase ‘merchant of death’ was “not just appropriate but in fact too mild for him”, Singhvi said.

The CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury said: “This is shameful. We condemn Modi’s comments. Even if he (Sohrabuddin) is a criminal, the chief minister, or for that matter even the prime minister, cannot decide his fate.”

The Election Commission said it would take a position on Modi's speech only after it had received a report from the Surat district collector. “I haven’t yet received a report,” Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswamy said in Surat. “The news has appeared in media but only after we have read an official report by the collector will we decide what to do.” The BJP defended Modi. Arun Jaitley said the CM had only “politically responded” to Congress statements, especially Sonia Gandhi’s “merchant of death” charge.