Modi is not an issue, nor our target, says Congress

By Liz Mathew, IANS

New Delhi : He may be under attack from his own party. But the Congress says that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will not be an issue in the coming assembly elections in the state.

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“Modi is no longer an election issue. He is not our target either. He has already been exposed very badly,” asserts B.K. Hariprasad, the Congress general secretary in charge of Gujarat.

“What we are fighting in Gujarat is the terror Modi and his associates have unleashed. He has been terrorising people. We have to regain the people and the state,” Hariprasad told IANS in an interview.

Voters in Gujarat’s 182 constituencies are to vote Dec 11 and 16.

Hariprasad, a Rajya Sabha MP from Karnakata, was in the news this month for his unusually acerbic attack on Modi. On television, he was heard saying that Modi was “born in gutter”.

Although the Election Commission promptly sent him a notice to explain the comments, Hariprasad – otherwise a soft-spoken man – did not show any remorse in the interview of what he had said.

“Einth ka javaab pathar se dena padega” (Our reactions should be harder),” he said. “The BJP should not underestimate us. We can do worse but our culture does not let us stoop to that level.

“Nevertheless we have to tell them what they have been up to,” he said, referring to the unending vitriol heaped against Congress president Sonia Gandhi on account of her foreign origin as well as her family.

Hariprasad, who has been actively working in Gujarat for the last one year, says the political situation in the state was “good” for the Congress party.

“People have started realising the realities. The man (Modi), who has been crowing about developmental work, has booked 165,000 farmers for power theft. He has terrorised people there.”

The Congress leader, however, said he feared the BJP could resort to “tricks” to retain power, especially after the Tehelka exposé alleging that Modi supervised the 2002 communal violence in which more than 1,000 people were killed.

“They can stoop to the lowest level to gain power. But the Congress is in power at the centre,” he said.

Some Congress leaders fear that the Tehelka sting could be used by Modi to polarise Gujarat’s voters on religious lines – as it happened in 2002 when Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a thumping win.

Hariprasad felt the people of Gujarat had been “taken for granted by Modi as he provoked the Hindutva ideology in 2002.

“The Tehelka has exposed just few of them (those who indulged in the violence). The Supreme Court has details of 2,000 of such people. Everybody knows what happened in 2002.”

After 59 train passengers were burnt to death at Godhra in February 2002, mobs went on a killing spree for weeks all across Gujarat, leaving over 1,000 people dead. It was the worst outbreak of communal violence in India since 1947.

Hariprasad denied that factional feuds in Gujarat’s Congress unit would be a major stumbling block.

“It is true that we have different groups there. But we are united to face the BJP and its vicious tactics,” he said.

The Congress, he added, was all set to take advantage of the virtual revolt of the Patel community against Modi.

“The Patels are the base of the BJP. They are the people who have built the party in Gujarat. After the BJP came to power, they have been humiliated,” said Hariprasad.

The Congress is also in the process of inducting BJP rebels who have publicly revolted against Modi. Although those like Suresh Mehta and Gordhan Zadaphia – who has been accused of involvement in the 2002 communal violence – will not contest the elections, seven others are likely to get the Congress ticket.