Congress president Sonia Gandhi will lead her party’s protest march to the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Tuesday against “rising intolerance” under the BJP-led regime but the government dismissed the talk of intolerance as a “perception being manufactured by certain sections” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Congress leaders said the march on Tuesday would include party vice president Rahul Gandhi, members of the Congress Working committee, party office-bearers and party MPs. The party also slammed Modi for his barbs at the Congress over the anti-Sikh riots in 1984.
The march will start from Parliament House and party leaders are expected to give a memorandum to President Pranab Mukherjee to convey their concern on “rising intolerance”.
Sonia Gandhi met the president on Monday evening but party sources termed it as “personal” meeting. The meeting came on a day Modi targeted her, saying Congress leaders had no right to talk about tolerance when they were involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
“Madam Soniaji, do you remember 1984? What happened in Delhi? Sikhs were killed. Serious charges were made against the Congress. Ironically, now the Congress talks of tolerance,” Modi said at an election rally in Purnea in Bihar.
He said after two Sikh bodyguards assassinated then prime minister Indira Gandhi, innocent Sikhs “were killed in broad daylight… And the Congress is giving lectures on tolerance”.
Congress leader Anand Sharma reacted sharply to Modi’s remarks, saying his comments were “politically motivated” and “a mischievous attempt to reopen the wounds of 31 years”.
He said riots followed assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi were “tragic” and “a sad chapter”, adding that successive governments have explored every possibility to provide a healing touch.
Sharma charged Modi with making the latest remarks to “divert attention from the rising concerns and fears in the country over orchestrated campaigns to create atmosphere of fear and intimidation”.
“Prime minister has chosen even now not to respond to the concerns expressed by eminent Indians who have made rich and notable contributions – scientists, authors, film producers, poets and others,” he said.
“He should not even think and act as a BJP leader or as a RSS pracharak (preacher) but fulfil and honour his constitutional duties and his moral duty as India’s prime minister,” he said.
Noting then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had immediately gone out on the streets of Delhi to diffuse communal sentiments and calm people after reaching the capital from West Bengal in the wake of assassination of his mother Indira Gandhi, he alleged Modi did not “utter a single word for three days” after the Gujarat riots of 2002 and “did not take effective measures to control the situation”.
Union minister M. Venkaiah Naidu hit back at the Congress.
“They are meeting the president to talk about rising intolerance. The Congress talking about intolerance is the joke of the century. It is like the devil quoting the scriptures,” Naidu told reporters here, claiming the Congress was “intolerant to the people’s mandate” that chose Modi as the prime minister.
Asked about concerns business leaders expressed last week over the vitiated atmosphere, Naidu said: “That’s not the words and phraseology they used. Some of them are misleading; others are misread.” He, however, conceded that some voices were “well-meaning” and were “naturally concerned”. “Our objection is to all these incidents being linked to PM Modi.”
He also cited “atrocities” committed in Congress ruled-states and in states ruled by “Congress-friendly parties”, noting the Dadri incident happened in Uttar Pradesh where the Samajwadi Party is in power, M.M. Kalburgi’s killing happened in Karnataka that is Congress-ruled, rationalist Narendra Dabholkar was killed in Maharashtra in August 2013 when the Congress was in power in the state.
Hitting out at writers, artistes and other intellectuals protesting the sudden rise in communal attacks in the country, Naidu asked where these “conscience-keepers” were after the 1984 riots and also referred to “their silence” during the mass exodus and genocide of Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir Valley.