M K Razdan
New Delhi: In his sharpest attack on Narendra Modi over the 2002 Gujarat riots, Rahul Gandhi on Sunday demanded “legal accountability” for the “clear and inexcusable failure” of governance during the violence, and dismissed talk of a clean chit to the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee as “politically expedient” but “far too premature”.
In an interview to PTI at his residence, the Congress vice-president said that Modi was answerable on moral grounds. “Beyond that there should be legal accountability for the clear and inexcusable failure of governance under him.”
The BJP contends that Modi has been given a clean chit by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT and courts and, therefore, has nothing to answer or apologise for regarding the post-Godhra riots.
Asked about this, Rahul said: “As you know, the SIT report had been seriously questioned by a number of credible experts. Grave flaws have been pointed out in the functioning of the SIT. The acceptance of the flawed SIT report by the lowest court has not yet been subjected to judicial scrutiny by higher courts.”
Referring to the Gujarat Chief Minister, he added: “The specific allegation and evidence pointing to Mr Modi’s responsibility in the 2002 riots are yet to be adequately probed. Any talk of his having been given a clean chit may be politically expedient, but is far too premature. There are many unanswered questions. There is a lot more the country needs to know.”
With the BJP bringing up the 1984 anti-Sikh riots whenever cornered on 2002, Rahul went a step further on the matter than he had done during a recent TV interview.
Asked why he, as the Congress vice-president, had hesitated during the TV interview to apologise for the riots which followed the assassination of his grandmother and PM Indira Gandhi in 1984, Rahul said, “The Prime Minister of the UPA has apologised and the president of the Congress party (has) expressed regrets. I share their sentiments completely.”
Debunking opinion polls predicting heavy losses for the Congress, the party’s chief campaigner acknowledged that there was a “certain amount of anti-incumbency against us”, but maintained that the party would do better than 2009 when it had won 206 seats in the face of similar grim predictions.
Refusing to hazard a guess on the number of seats the Congress would win, Rahul said: “We will do well.” He cited the UPA’s various welfare scheme as its achievements.
Rahul added that he did not see the Aam Aadmi Party as a factor at the national level in the coming Lok Sabha elections. The new party had got an opportunity to run Delhi for which the Congress had given full support, he said. “They did not solve any of the problems they said they would. Frankly, they ran away… It is one thing to make large statements — that we will do this and we will do that. It is totally different to actually run a government.”
Rahul added that he did not see the Lok Sabha elections as virtually a presidential style contest between him and Modi. “It is a clash between two ideas of India,” he said. The Congress represented an idea which “respects the liberty and dignity of every one of our countrymen by upholding 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”, Rahul said.
Further accusing the BJP of wanting an India “in which power is centralised in the hands of individuals”, he added, “The ideas that Mr Modi represents are dangerous for India.”
To a question that people appeared to be disappointed with the lacklustre performance of the UPA government and appeared to favour a strong leader like Modi, he said, “Yes, I believe that India needs a ‘strong’ leader, but we must have a deeper understanding of what ‘strength’ means… Strength to me is not brute force or the ability to bulldoze your way through decision making in an autocratic manner… I do believe that an autocratic mindset that believes in dispensing with whatever is inconvenient to its notions is dangerous because such people tend to disregard what is right for what is expedient.”
Asked if he was ready to be the leader of the Opposition and would be in for the long haul if the Congress ended up on the opposition benches, Rahul replied, “I entered active politics in 2004 when the Congress was written off. I did not join when the party was in power. I entered politics because of the infinite love and affection I have shared with this nation. There is no possible outcome of this, or any future election, that can make any difference to these sentiments. I am here for good.”
“I must also say that the media seems to have a need to score card me at every turn. I view my own success and failure on a different scale and time horizon. Down the road I will measure myself on how much voice we have been able to give the people of India through devolved structures of the Congress party,” Rahul added.
Contending that his power was “overestimated”, the Congress leader claimed that he had differed with the government on a number of issues but “I have been overruled”. Asked to cite examples, he said that “one very large public place where I was overruled” was on the question of making Lokpal a constitutional body.
He also talked of the ordinance to nullify a Supreme Court order disqualifying convicted lawmakers. He said he had a view different from senior members of the party but was initially overruled. “Then I took the step of making my views public.”
Rahul repeated his belief that the UPA government had not been aggressive enough in conveying its achievements. “We have done transformatory work. We could always be better in communication.”
Rubbishing the perception that the Congress was losing partners, the party vice-president said that it had alliances with the NCP, RJD, JMM, RLD and the National Conference, though it had lost the DMK and Trinamool Congress. He did not rule out the possibility of working with the TMC and DMK again.
Rahul justified his repeated assertions that he wanted to “change the system”, despite being very much an insider. What was important was “not where I come from but what I work for. Does being an insider — as you define me — take away from me the right to disagree or fight for change”, he said. “These insider/outsider are unimportant labels.”