The Narendra Modi government was responsible for “abetting and pushing” the 2002 Gujarat riots while the Congress government tried to stop the 1984 riots, Rahul Gandhi said on Monday but offered no apology for the anti-Sikh violence.
Pitted against Mr. Modi in a virtual Presidential-style contest in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, Mr. Gandhi said he was not scared of him and claimed that Congress will defeat BJP.
Making a direct attack on Mr. Modi, he said, “the fact of the matter is that innocent people died in 1984 and innocent people dying is a horrible thing and should not happen. The difference between Gujarat and 1984 was that the government of Gujarat was involved in the riots.”
Asked in an interview to a television channel as to how he could say that when Mr. Modi has been given a clean chit by the courts, Mr. Gandhi said, “... he was the Chief Minister when the Gujarat riots happened....The government in Gujarat was actually abetting and pushing the riots further.”
Seeking to differentiate the role of governments during the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and 2002 in Gujarat, he said, “the simple difference is that in 1984, the government was not involved in the massacre of people. In Gujarat it was.”
He insisted that the Congress government in 1984 “was not aiding and abetting the riots” but had tried to stop the violence.
When pressed further on how he could attack Mr. Modi on the Gujarat riots, Mr. Gandhi said, “it is not me. It is a large number of people who saw actively the government of Gujarat being involved in the riots.
“I mean, people saw it. I am not the person who saw it. Your colleagues saw it. Your colleagues told me. They saw the administration actively attacking the minorities.”
To questions whether he would apologise for the 1984 riots and whether he felt that there was no need for it, Mr. Gandhi said, “First of all, I wasn’t involved in the riots at all. It wasn’t that I was a part of it.”
At the same time, he admitted that “some Congress men were probably involved in 1984 anti-Sikh riots and they have been punished for it”.
When asked if he agreed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s view that Mr. Modi presided over the “mass massacre” of innocents on the streets of Ahmedabad, Mr. Gandhi said, “What the Prime Minister is saying is the fact. Gujarat happened and people died.”
Asked if he was avoiding a direct face-off with Mr. Modi by not becoming the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Congress, the Congress vice-president said, “to understand that question, you have to understand a little bit, who Rahul Gandhi is and you get an answer to the question to what Rahul Gandhi is scared of and not scared of.”
To a question as to what was his view of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, he said, “I think, we will defeat the BJP in the next elections....I will win the election. I am reasonably confident.”
He added that Congress was “battle ready” and “going to win”.
Asked if he would take responsibility if Congress doesn’t win the election, he said, “If we don’t win, I am the Vice President of the party. I will take responsibility.”
On naming Mr. Modi as prime ministerial candidate, he said, “BJP believes in concentration of power in one person. I fundamentally disagree with that. I believe in democracy. I believe in opening of the system.... We have fundamentally different philosophies.”
The questioner said Rahul Gandhi has avoided the whole question about whether he was open to Prime Minister’s post and avoiding a difficult contest.
In reply, Mr. Gandhi referred to his speech at the AICC meet and said announcing a PM candidate before an election is “announcing your Prime Minister without asking your MPs. It is not actually written in the Constitution.”
He avoided direct reply to questions on whether political parties should be brought under the purview of RTI, saying Parliament should decide on it if political parties are unanimous on this. “My position is that the more openness, the better.”
Asked why Congress protected former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan despite a judicial commission’s indictment, Mr. Gandhi said the party had taken action wherever corruption was involved.
While speaking to Times Now, he said he made his position clear on Mr. Chavan after the Maharashtra Cabinet had rejected the judicial commission’s findings.
On corruption charges against Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, he said, “there is a legal process. Follow it and conclude it.”
With regard to performance by Aam Aadmi Party, he said, “there are things how they have reached out to people. Don’t take that away from them.”
To questions about dynasty politics, Mr. Gandhi said he said he is “absolutely against the concept of dynasty. But it happens in BJP, SP, DMK and Congress everywhere.”
He said he was being personally attacked because he is doing things that are dangerous to the system.