| Sonia Gandhi during a rally in Ahmedabad on Saturday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Dec. 8: The Congress today said Sonia Gandhi’s “merchants of death” remark was indeed aimed at Narendra Modi, the clarification coming reportedly at Sonia’s orders.
“Of course, she did (mean Modi). You can read that statement,” party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said a day after minister Kapil Sibal had claimed the Congress president had not referred to the Gujarat chief minister.
Sources said Sonia felt the need to distance the party from Sibal’s comment, which may have created an impression that the Congress was fighting shy of taking on Modi over the 2002 pogrom.
So, they added, she personally asked Singhvi to explain that the Congress was not apologetic about the remarks — although indications are that the Election Commission might send her a showcause notice.
“Gujarat mein maut ke saudagaron ka sashan chal raha hai (merchants of death are ruling Gujarat),” Sonia had said at a poll rally in Navsari, south Gujarat, on December 1.
“What Sonia Gandhi said is crystal clear,” Singhvi told reporters. “In view of Modi’s acts, omissions and utterances over several years, her statement is not only appropriate but also mild. We stand by that description. There is no question of being apologetic.”
Poll commission sources said the panel was likely to ask the Congress chief to explain the remarks, which could amount to a violation of the model code of conduct.
Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani had yesterday asked the commission to adopt the same yardstick for Modi and Sonia.
Modi, issued a showcause notice for allegedly justifying gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh’s fake-encounter killing, today replied he had been provoked by Sonia’s “merchants of death” slur. He argued that it was Sonia and not him who deserved such a notice. The poll panel meets tomorrow to consider Modi’s reply.
Asked if Sonia might send the panel a clarification of her own accord, Singhvi replied: “She needs to clarify nothing. Everything is on camera.”
Sonia is said to have sought an explanation from Sibal, the science and technology minister and the party’s media convener for the Gujarat polls.
Late tonight, Sibal denied he had goofed. “I had never said that the remarks were meant or not meant for Modi,” PTI quoted him as saying. He claimed the media had given a spin to his remarks.
At the earlier news briefing, Singhvi had sounded gleeful as he contradicted Sibal, a fellow lawyer and party rival, without naming him.
Some Congress leaders, however, were dismayed that the party was “speaking in different voices” three days before the polls kicked off.
A cabinet minister rued that “in-house lawyers” had a habit of contradicting each other on crucial matters. Some wondered why Sonia had not insisted that Sibal himself make amends.
The snub to Sibal comes soon after junior commerce minister Jairam Ramesh was dropped from a key party panel, reportedly over his “indiscretions”.