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Once bitten, Rahul amends bites
Party rushes to clutch at Modi attack

New Delhi, March 17: Rahul Gandhi’s attack on Narendra Modi on the question of accountability for the 2002 Gujarat riots is being widely welcomed by party leaders who felt his tentative approach in his first televised interview had not done much good to the party.

Rahul in an interview with the news agency PTI yesterday questioned the perception that Modi had been given a clean chit for any role in the 2002 riots and laid emphasis on the importance of judicial accountability.

The argument takes the debate on Modi’s refusal to apologise for the riots to a higher level, indicating that owning political, administrative or moral responsibility won’t suffice.

Rahul said in the interview that there should be legal accountability for the clear and inexcusable failure of governance under Modi.

“The SIT report had been seriously questioned by a number of credible experts. The acceptance of the flawed SIT report by the lowest court has not yet been subjected to judicial scrutiny by higher courts.... there are many unanswered questions. The specific allegation and evidence pointing to Modi’s responsibility in the 2002 riots are yet to be adequately probed. Any talk of his having been given clean chit may be politically expedient, but is far too premature,” Rahul said.

In an earlier interview on TimesNow, Rahul could not contest the claim that Modi enjoyed clean chit given by the courts and it was perceived that he messed up the question on anti-Sikh riots. He had given an impression that he was not supposed to apologise for the anti-Sikh riots as he was not handling the party affairs then in 1984.

In the new interview, Rahul said the Prime Minister and the Congress president had apologised for the 1984 riots and he fully shared that sentiment.

Party leaders saw a vast improvement in Rahul’s approach and contended that a tentative approach on Modi would leave the Congress nowhere. Hence a clear message had to be sent that there could be no compromise on secularism, and the fight against the BJP was continuing irrespective of the electoral outcome. Many leaders felt Rahul should be seen fighting Modi much more aggressively.

The Congress intent is clear as the party’s official website has upgraded the attack on Modi on several fronts. While a “fact check” section has been added to scrutinise the lofty claims by Modi, there is a sustained criticism of his political persona.

Even the customary Holi greetings today had political overtones, targeting Modi’s politics.

The Congress message said: “Colours do not belong to any caste, creed or religion. The light reveals its true, all-encompassing nature, when it is passed through a prism. The same way India reveals its spirit of unity in diversity when it celebrates Holi. After all, when every face is smeared with colours, who can make out a Hindu from a Muslim, or a Parsi from a Christian. No identity remains, but that of an Indian.”

Rahul had yesterday described the election as “a clash between two ideas of India,” adding that “the Congress represented an idea which respects the liberty and dignity of everyone and we uphold the ideals of humanity and inclusion. Whereas the BJP wanted an India in which there is no place for the poor, no place for those with a different religion or ideology... the BJP seeks an India in which power is centralised in the hands of individuals”.

He emphatically said: “The ideas that Mr Modi represents are dangerous for India.”

With this interview, the party leadership is convinced Rahul’s initial hesitation about media interaction is over.

Pawar on riots

UPA ally Sharad Pawar, who has been taking an ambiguous stand on Modi, today said a chief minister had to take responsibility if riot took place in a state under his watch.

“I am a chief minister and (if) something happens in my state, I have to take the responsibility. I cannot say ‘no’. I may not be directly involved, but as a chief minister, as a home minister, as an administrator, I think it is my responsibility to protect the interest of the citizens,” Pawar told NDTV.

On his earlier statement that Modi should no longer be held responsible for the communal violence as a court has exonerated the Gujarat chief minister, Pawar said: “When judiciary has said something, one has to accept.”