Modi speaks at a rally in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh, on Monday. (PTI)
March 31: Narendra Modi today hit out at Sonia Gandhi over the allegedly preferential treatment of two Italian marines accused of killing two Kerala fishermen but did not explicitly cite her Italian origin.
“Sonia Gandhi should answer the people on who helped the two Italian marines get safe passage from India,” Modi told a rally at Biswanath Chariali in eastern Assam’s Tezpur constituency, about 330km from Guwahati.
The Supreme Court had allowed the marines to return home for two weeks for Christmas in 2012 and then for four weeks in February last year to vote in their national elections. In March last year, Rome had refused to send them back but buckled after New Delhi piled diplomatic pressure.
Modi claimed that it was only after the Supreme Court had intervened and ordered that the marines be brought back from Italy that the “powers were forced to ensure the return of the marines”.
He said Sonia must tell the country in which jail the marines had been lodged and what punishment they had been awarded.
“The nation wants to know the address of the jail where the marines have been lodged. Just because they are from Italy, they cannot be subjected to a different treatment.”
Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone were guarding an Italian-flagged oil tanker when they shot dead two fishermen off the Kerala coast in February 2012, apparently mistaking them for pirates.
They were imprisoned in Kerala for most of 2012 but after their return from their second trip home, have been lodged in the Italian embassy and are awaiting trial. They can be jailed for years if convicted, but piracy charges carrying the death sentence have been withdrawn.
Sonia had, in an allusion to Modi, told a rally in Assam’s Lakhimpur constituency yesterday that “some people were beating drums of patriotism”.
Modi today cited the marines’ case to claim that “the 100 crore Indians do not need to learn patriotism from Sonia Gandhi”.
“Two Italian marines had killed innocent fishermen in Kerala but instead of being in jail in India, they were sent back to Italy,” he said.
“I want to ask: who or what power sent them back to Italy and asked them not to be brought back? Should they not be in jail in India?”
Asked about Modi’s comments, Union finance minister P. Chidambaram said in Delhi: “These are the traits we have pointed out for two years. He can’t resist making derogatory remarks, making such perverse characterisation. There are deep flaws in his character.”
Chidambaram alleged that Modi had earlier pointed to former chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh’s religion and made derogatory remarks about Muslims and Sonia.
“The Italian marine issue is a matter of law. What has this law to do with the birthplace of the Congress president?” he said.
Attacking Sonia’s “patriotism mantra”, Modi alleged that the Congress had never bothered to react when Indian soldiers were killed by Pakistanis in Kashmir, nor when people from the Northeast faced discrimination in Delhi.
“People are feeling alienated in their own country.… Women are being raped in the (national) capital (and) youths from the Northeast are being killed for racial reasons,” he said.
Modi said the Congress would struggle to open its account in Assam or to reach double digits in any state. The BJP holds four of Assam’s 14 Lok Sabha seats and the Congress holds seven.
The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate held two other rallies in Assam today: at Gogamukh (410km from Guwahati) in Lakhimpur constituency and Sivasagar town (370km from Guwahati) in Jorhat constituency. The five eastern Assam seats of Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Tezpur, Lakhimpur and Kaliabor vote on April 7.
The rally at Biswanath Chariali was attended by over 60,000 people. Rahul’s meeting at the same place yesterday had attracted a crowd of 40,000 despite a shutdown called by a Bodo group.