A combative Prime Minister Narendra Modi returned persistent Opposition fire on Monday, saying the Congress had no right to lecture his government on intolerance in the country because the party presided over the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
His scathing remarks, which drew sharp reactions from the rival party, came amid a snowballing anti-intolerance campaign in India with dozens of authors and artists returning prestigious awards and opposition leaders and intellectuals accusing the BJP-led government of stoking religious tensions as well as gagging dissenters.
Watch | PM Modi evokes 1984 riots to counter Congress intolerance attack
“Today is November 2. Do you recall 1984?” he asked a large crowd at an election rally in Bihar ahead of the final day of polling. “Lakhs of Sikhs were massacred in Delhi and across India on the second, third and fourth day of Indira Gandhi’s killing in which serious allegations were made against Congress and its leaders.
Today, on the same day, the Congress party has the cheek to preach on intolerance... The tears in the eyes of the Sikh victims have not yet dried.”
The Prime Minister’s statements came a day after finance minister Arun Jaitley in a social media post described Modi as the biggest victim of the “ideological intolerance” practised by the Congress and leftist thinkers.
The ever-swirling debate gained traction on Saturday when President Pranab Mukherjee, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and RBI governor Raghuram Rajan all spoke out on the significance of tolerance and harmony amid growing communal polarisation in the country.
Modi’s attack was part of a final push for a BJP win in the five-phase Bihar election that’s being seen as a test of his popularity as the NDA is locked in a tight contest with an avowedly secular alliance led by chief minister Nitish Kumar which also comprises the Congress.
“Both (RJD chief) Laluji and Nitishji have been fighting against the Congress for long,” the PM said, while promising to pull the eastern state out of povery. “There may be some compulsion for both of them that they have given forty seats to the Congress, a party which is non-existent in Bihar.”
The Congress hit back at the Prime Minister for his comment on the Sikh riots by raking up the 2002 sectarian violence in Gujarat when he was chief minister and accused him of being an “endorser of intolerance”.
“The Prime Minister’s statement is politically motivated and mischievous and is only aimed at reopening the wounds after 31 years,” party spokesperson Anand Sharma told reporters in Delhi, while reminding him of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s advice to follow “raj dharma”. “Like in 2002, Modi has forgotten raj dharma in 2015,” Sharma said.
(With agency inputs)