AS THE 11 convicted for life in the gangrape of Bilkis Bano, and the murder of seven members of her family, during the 2002 Gujarat riots, walked out of jail on Tuesday, the Congress lashed out at the BJP government. Pointing out that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken of women power in his Independence Day speech just hours before the state’s remission order came for the 11, Congress leader Pawan Khera asked at a press conference in Delhi whether the PM meant what he said.
Calling the Gujarat government order “unprecedented”, the Congress said: “You let off the convicts citing the 14 years spent by them of their sentence, that their conduct in jail was good, and the nature of the crime… If we just consider the nature of the crime, does rape not come in the category that the harshest punishment be given, that any sentence is not enough? And we saw today that those who were let off, they are being felicitated and honoured. Is this Amrit Mahotsav?”
Bilkis Bano case: 11 lifers convicted for Gujarat riots gangrape, murder set free in Godhra; Congress calls BJP govt order ‘unprecedented’ pic.twitter.com/b6bY503sC3
With Tuesday marking the death anniversary of A B Vajpayee, Khera, the Chairman of the Congress’s Media and Publicity Department, said he wanted to remind Modi again of the Raj Dharma that the former PM had talked about during his visit to Gujarat after the 2002 riots.
PM Modi should come forward and clarify if what he said in his Red Fort speech were just words, with no meaning.
Khera added: “Does the PM not mean what he says? Or is it that his own party, its governments have stopped listening to him?… Or does he say one thing to the country and another to his own party’s government?”
Khera pointed out that as recently as 2017, the Supreme Court had intervened to ensure Rs 50 lakh relief for Bilkis Bano, adding that this was proof that what had happened with her was wrong, that her family was put through torture. “How dare the PM then talk about women empowerment from the ramparts of the Red Fort?”
The Congress also underlined the fact that the Gujarat order had come on the day India marked its 75th year of Independence.
Linking the Bilkis Bano order of the Gujarat government to what happened in the Kathua and Unnao rape cases, Khera said all of these showed the BJP government’s “mentality”. In the Kathua case, the Congress pointed out, perhaps for the first time in the country, senior leaders of the BJP hit the streets “in the support of rapists”. “Is all of this a well-thought-out strategy,” Khera asked.
The Congress leader also mentioned that while Modi’s statement in his Independence Day speech was commendable, he had earlier used words like “Rs 50 crore girlfriend”, “Congress widow”, “Jersey cow” and “Sroopanekha”, to attack rival leaders.
In reply to a question, Khera said: “Either the Gujarat government should take back its order, or PM Modi should take back his words.”
Opposition criticises move
While the Aam Aadmi Party, which is a contender like the Congress in the Gujarat elections, was yet to speak about the remission order, other parties such as the RJD, AIMIM, CPM, TMC and BSP criticised the BJP government’s move.
RJD spokesperson Ejaz Ahmad said: “PM Modi today made tall statements on Nari Samman and said one should not insult women… but hours later, the Gujarat government allowed convicts of the Bilkis Bano gangrape case to go scot-free.”
AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi tweeted: “This is BJP’s version of AZADI KA AMRIT. People who are GUILTY of a heinous crime have been given freedom. BJP’s bias for a religion is such that even brutal rape & hate crimes are forgivable.”
CPM tweeted its strong condmenation of the Gujarat government order. “This is the real face of New India — convicted killers and rapists released. Activist Teesta who fought for justice was jailed,” it posted.
TMC spokesperson Saket Gokhale tweeted that the Gujarat government has released “all 11 monsters who were convicted of this heinous crime” against Bilkis Bano. “Where’s the outrage?”
BSP MP Danish Ali said the contrast between the speech the PM gave at the Red Fort and the Gujarat government remission order exposed the huge gap between words and the spirit of justice. “The world is watching but who cares in ‘New India’?” he tweeted.