For the second time in less than a month, Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi’s remarks have created a controversy, this time even outside the country. The Congress leader’s comments in Baduan that a Gandhi family member always stood by what it said whether it was the freedom struggle, the division of Pakistan or taking India to the 21st century has raised the hackles of other political parties and invited a sharp reaction from Pakistan.
"You know that when any member of my family had decided to do anything, he does it. Be it the freedom struggle, the division of Pakistan or taking India to the 21st century," he said at an election rally in Badaun.
In Islamabad, Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam was quoted as saying that Rahul remarks only prove allegations that "India interfered in Pakistan’s affairs and tried to destabilise it. This is a clear admission of it," she told Geo TV.
But when quizzed whether Pakistan would raise the mater with India, she said: "This is not new. Everyone knows what happened in 1971." At the same time, she noted that there is qualitative difference between Islamabad’s defence capability at that time and now. "No one should entertain such thoughts in the present day world as it could end up being risky and dangerous."
Within the country, the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and the Communist Party of India, a key ally of the Congress at the Centre, criticised Rahul for his remaks while the Congress rushed to the defence of the young leader who Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described as the "future of Uttar Pradesh" during his election rally.
Political commentators like Professor Pushpesh Pant of Jawaharlal Nehru University saw Rahul speaking "out of turn" and pointed out that while India helped, the creation of Bangladesh also took place because of the revolt of the people there. "Rahul would be well advised if here were to focus on the present and not the past," said Pant.
"He must speak on topical issues that confront the state of UP. He is on an election campaign and he must speak on the misrule of the Mulayam Singh Yadav government. Rahul must talk about what the Congress can do for the state. The contribution of the Congress in the past is not enough," said CPI’s D Raja.
With Rahul’s comments threatening to whittle at the BJP’s plank of aggressive patriotism, the latter’s reaction was on a different line. Alleging that the comments reflected the Congress’s "regal and dynastic mindset," the party, which had hailed the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as "goddess Durga’’ for her action in Bangladesh, on Sunday chose to remind Rahul how his family had squandered what the armed forces had won.
"It would during the rule of the same family that agreements were signed with Pakistan to give back everything that our forces had won in that conflict," charged VK Malhotra who held the party responsible for India’s partition in 1947.
In Lucknow, Venkaiah Naidu, former BJP chief, said that the Gandhi family was responsible for the Jammu and Kashmir issue, emergency, anti-Sikh riots and sending the Indian Peacekeeping Force to Sri Lanka. "Soch samajh kar bolna chahiye (He should speak after serious thinking)," Naidu advised the MP after pointing out that thousands had sacrificed their lives for the country’s freedom.
The BJP leaders also criticised the PM’s remarks on Rahul as an "affront to democracy" and accused him of imposing one family rule when it was for the people to decide who their future should be.
Samajwadi Party General Secretary Amar Singh saw in the remarks, Rahul’s efforts to try and find a niche for himself in the state where the Congress has a marginal presence.
But the Congress rushed to Rahul’s defence. Spokesman Abhishek Singhvi did not see any mistake in reminding the people of the country of historical issues. "It is important to understand the spirit of Rahul’s statements and not the words used by him," he said. He recalled how former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had, after the 1971 war, hailed Indira Gandhi as "goddess Durga".
"The statement (by Rahul) should be viewed holistically and not out of context. None of the elements is factually wrong. After the contribution of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, that tradition continued with Motilal Nehru and Jawaharlal Nehru and others. This cannot be overemphasised," Singhvi said, adding "surely, talk of development and historical issues are not either inaccurate or impertinent."