Gujarat Congress leaders on Sunday shrugged off suggestions about a negative fallout of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s criticism of the party and its former president Rahul Gandhi for being seen along with activist Medha Patkar at the Bharat Jodo Yatra the day before in Maharashtra. The party claimed the PM’s comments were part of the BJP’s “diversionary tactic”.
Modi hit out at Gandhi and Patkar at an election rally in the town of Dhoraji in Rajkot district on Sunday. For the BJP, Patkar is not just the face of the agitation against the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada — a pet project of Modi as chief minister and PM — but also one of the figures who led protests against the 2002 riots.
“A Congress leader placed his arms around the shoulder of a ben (sister) who led the agitation (against the Sardar Sarovar Dam),” Modi said at the rally, asking the audience to question the Congress about this when they seek votes. Modi’s remarks came a day ahead of Rahul’s scheduled rally in Rajkot.
On Saturday, tagging pictures showing Gandhi with Patkar at the Yatra, Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel said on Twitter, “Congress and Rahul Gandhi have time and again shown their animosity towards Gujarat and Gujaratis. By giving Medha Patkar a central place in his Yatra, Rahul Gandhi shows that he stands with those elements who denied water to Gujaratis for decades. Gujarat will not tolerate this.” In August, Patel attacked the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) over what it termed as the party’s continued association with Patkar and called the activist an “Urban Naxal”.
But, Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee president Jagdish Thakor said the PM’s comments would have “no impact” on the outcome of the election. “(If they ask us about Patkar) we have a thousand questions to ask them (BJP). Did he (Rahul) join her yatra? Anybody is free to join the (Bharat Jodo) Yatra. People have seen through them … you make an issue of a non-issue. I tell you, if you make a mistake and say sorry, people will accept. This is not the Congress saying, people’s experience of the government has been such that they are now tired (of the BJP). For 27 years you have been saying the same thing. I don’t think this is going to have any impact.”
“Who built the dam?” asked All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in charge of Gujarat Raghu Sharma, referring to India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
He also said Modi’s criticism on the matter was not an election issue. “When she (Patkar) was doing the agitation, it was (former chief minister) Chimanbhai Patel and his wife (Urmila) who stopped her from entering Gujarat. Where was the BJP then? Before starting his Yatra, Rahulji talked to all NGOs … Mahatma Gandhi’s great-grandson also joined the Yatra. Why is Modi not talking about that?”
Playing down any political impact of Modi’s attack, Sharma said, “It is his (Modi’s) habit to divert from the main issue. There is an atmosphere of fear … Why is he not talking about the three lakh people who died of Covid because of the unavailability of healthcare? Why is he not talking about drug trafficking? The fact that Gujarat is a dry state, but illegal liquor is available through home delivery. These are the issues that should come up. Let him (Modi) talk about unemployment, about the economy.”
Asking why Gandhi walking with Patkar was an election issue for the BJP, Sharma went on to say, “Every time they deviate … they are in search of issues. People are tired of this bhashan (lecture). Where is the roadmap for education and health infrastructure? Is he even talking about implementing the old pension scheme as the Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh governments have done? This is for the social security of a person who gave 35 years to the government.”