Unnerved by the Sangh Parivar’s frontal attack on Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde for saying that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had set up terror camps, Congress general secretary and media chairperson Janardan Dwivedi on Tuesday hastened to distance the party from the remarks.
Interestingly, it came on a day when External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid — like party colleagues Digvijaya Singh, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Rajiv Shukla before him — defended Mr. Shinde.
“The party clarified its position long ago,” Mr. Dwivedi said, “that terrorism should not be linked to any religion, and that expressions such as saffron terror should not be used.” How could the Congress, he continued, object to kesariya (saffron), a colour that is found in both Congress and national flags?
Mr. Dwivedi’s comments come in the wake of the controversy over Mr Shinde’s remarks who, while addressing the AICC session in Jaipur on Sunday, accused the BJP and the RSS of conducting terror training camps and promoting “Hindu terrorism.” The BJP and the RSS demanded an apology from Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the remarks, andcalled for the sacking of Mr. Shinde.
But even as Mr. Dwivedi sought to disassociate the Congress from Mr. Shinde’s comments, Mr. Khurshid endorsed the line taken by his Cabinet colleague. Asked whether the Home Minister had given a handle to anti-India propaganda in Pakistan at a press conference, he said: “Our stated position, shared fully by the Home Minister and the past Home Minister, is based entirely on facts the investigative agencies have made available to the Government … I think we should not be looking at finer notions of what should be and can be said at any given time … There are elements who want to use some cover of pretence and some cover of allegations against other groups to continue with their nefarious and unwholesome activities.”
Pressed on the subject, he said he urged people “not to be distracted by commentary that comes from elsewhere which must be a self-serving commentary.”
The current controversy is a throwback to an almost identical one in 2010, when Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram — then Home Minister — while addressing a conference of DGPs and IGPs on August 25, 2010, said: “I wish to caution you that there is no let-up in the attempts to infiltrate militants into India. There is no let-up in the attempts to radicalise young men and women in India. Besides, there is the recently uncovered phenomenon of saffron terrorism that has been implicated in many bomb blasts of the past.”
That reference to “saffron terrorism” set off a similar storm, with the BJP baying for Mr. Chidambaram’s blood. That episode, too, culminated in Mr. Dwivedi expressing the Congress’ disapproval of the expression “saffron terrorism.”