Kerala Chief Minister and CPM Politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan Monday mounted an attack on the Congress over the 2002 Gujarat riots, questioning its “silence” over the arrest of retired DGP R B Sreekumar and activist Teesta Setalvad by the Gujarat Police a day after the Supreme Court upheld the clean chit by the SIT to the state government, then led by Narendra Modi, in the violence.
“The Congress could have organised at least a nominal protest. No massive protest is needed. Why could they not think so? They (Sreekumar and Setalvad) were arrested on the day Emergency was declared (in 1975). These arrests should be seen as a bid to frighten anti-BJP forces in the country. (That) If you speak against the Parivar, this will be the result. The Congress is maintaining silence before the Sangh Parivar’s threat. The Congress is crawling on its knees fearing the BJP. All those parties, including the Indian Union Muslim League, which stand with the Congress, should consider this seriously,’’ he said.
On the day of the arrests, while the Left questioned the Gujarat Police’s move, hours after Home Minister Amit Shah had questioned the role of Sreekumar and Setalvad in the allegations against the Modi government for 2002, the Congress reaction had been cautious.
“We have heard of the arrests. It appears to be in relation to alleged offences of forgery and fabrication arising out of events that took place between the years immediately following 2002, even though the FIR registered appears to be dated June 25th, 2022. We hope and trust that proper and full due process of law will be followed meticulously,” senior Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi had told The Indian Express, adding: “Furthermore, it stands to reason that the Congress as a political party cannot comment on the merits of a case with which it has no connection.”
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Vijayan compared this statement to the reaction by the CPM, which strongly condemned Setalvad’s arrest and called her “an indefatigable defender of human rights”. It also said that her arrest was on “dubious grounds” and demanded her release.
Vijayan also accused that the Congress wanted to “forget” the Gujarat riots issue. “Did the Congress ever support the legal battle of Zakia Jafri, the widow of former (Congress) MP Ahsan Jafri who was killed in the 2002 riots? Did Congress president Sonia Gandhi or any other Congress leader visit her and comfort her after the death of Ahsan? After the riot, Sonia had visited Gujarat. Then, Congress brains advised Sonia that she should not visit Zakia. The reason was that Congress would lose the Hindu votes. That was the stand of the Congress. During the last Gujarat Assembly elections, Rahul Gandhi conducted temple tours in that state. But he did not speak about Jafri or the riots,’’ said the Kerala CM.
Countering Vijayan’s charge, senior Congress legislator V D Satheesan said the CM was “spreading lies” without an understanding of the facts. Quoting what Congress general secretary Randeep Surjewala had said, Satheesan said Supreme Court verdicts should not be politicised.
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At the same time, the Congress leader went further than the Delhi leadership’s response and asked if only a collector or police officers were to be held responsible for any riot in their jurisdictions, and not their political masters. “Will the Chief Minister, Cabinet and the state government never be held accountable, even if the state is thrown into a circle of premeditated violence and riots?… What then is the Constitutional and moral responsibility of the Chief Minister and the state government?” he said.
Satheesan also stressed that the Congress had “always stood with Setalvad”, pointing out that she conferred Padma Shri in 2007 when the Congress was in power at the Centre, and in 2002, the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award was given to her. “Even the BJP has accused that the Congress has been supporting Setalvad and Sreekumar,” he said.
The war of words between the two has shades of the politics playing out between the two parties in the state. Vijayan’s statement shows the CPM in Kerala is set to use the Gujarat riots issue to press its claims that the Congress is too weak-kneed over Hindutva to mount a challenge to the BJP. The CPM has been trying to woo the minorities in the state, traditionally with the Congress, through this line of attack.
The Congress, on the other hand, accuses Vijayan of helping the Sangh Parivar’s agenda in Kerala by focusing its attention on the Congress. The party has also called the attack on Rahul Gandhi’s office in Wayanad by CPM student wing SFI as proof of the same.
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