Disowning Kapil Sibal's defensive remarks, Congress on Saturday insisted that party chief Sonia Gandhi did refer to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi when she used the phrase 'merchants of death' in her election speech and it was not apologetic about it.
"Of course, she did. You can read that statement," AICC spokesman Abhishek Singhvi told reporters, clearly distancing the party from senior leader Sibal's statement on Friday that Gandhi did not refer to Modi when she said 'merchants of death'.
"What Mrs Gandhi said is crystal clear. In view of Narendra Modi's acts, omissions and utterances over several years, Mrs Gandhi's statement is not only apposite but also mild. We stand by that description," he said.
"There is no question about being apologetic," Singhvi said. Asked whether Gandhi would give a suo-motu clarification to the Election Commission (EC) over her speech, Singhvi said, "she needs to clarify nothing. Everything is on camera."
To BJP leader LK Advani's statement that the EC should also issue notice to the Congress chief and adopt the same yardstick for both her and Modi, he said, "No right thinking person can or will equate the statement of the Congress President with Modi.
"This is a deliberate mischief and a desperate attempt by BJP to try to justify the unjustifiable," Singhvi said. Congress sources said Sibal's statement had sent a message that the party was afraid to take on Modi on the issue of the post-Godhra riots and the clarification on Saturday was meant to dispel any such impression.
Asked if the party was in disagreement with Sibal's statement, Singhvi said, "I am not here to comment on persons or personalities. All that I want to say is that the AICC stands by the statement, by the description."
"In the light of Modi's acts, omissions and utterances over the years, in the light of Modi's confessional statement a few days ago, in the light of Modi government's written affidavit in the Supreme Court, we reiterate and stand by the statement made from the AICC," he said.
Sibal had said: "Mrs Gandhi said `your state functionaries'. `Merchants of death' was meant for the manner in which certain state functionaries were working."
Singhvi has in the AICC briefings said the `merchants of death' phrase was not only appropriate but too mild for Modi. He, however, refrained from using the `merchants of death' phrase in the press briefing on Saturday and only repeated that the AICC stood by its statement when asked about it.
Singhvi also attacked Modi on the issue of development in Gujarat, saying, "It is easy to boast, It is easy to mislead if one runs away from facts and figures. It is easy to make tall claims if facts are conveniently avoided."
He accused Modi of having presented a false picture as regards tribal development, economic growth, prices and education. He claimed the amount released by the NDA government during 2002-04 for tribal development was Rs 4,530 lakh, while the UPA released Rs 9,625.34 lakh during 2005-07.
Singhvi also claimed that the BJP government in Gujarat had failed to utilise more than 50 per cent funds allocated by the UPA Government for the scheme.