NEW DELHI — Taking the BJP’s nationalism narrative in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls head-on, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said the Indian Army is not Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “personal property” and it should not be politicised as he also slammed the government on tackling terror, citing JeM chief Masood Azhar’s release during the NDA rule.
Asserting that terrorism is a huge issue, Gandhi alleged that the BJP compromises on it, adding that the Congress will deal with it “more sternly” than Modi because it works with a strategy, rather than “events”.
Addressing a press conference at the party headquarters here, he also hit out at the prime minister over his remarks that the Congress conducted surgical strikes only “on paper” and the leaders of the opposition party thought those were akin to video games.
Gandhi said Modi’s comments were not an insult to the Congress, but to the Army.
Asked about the prime minister invoking Masood Azhar’s designation as a global terrorist by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) at a poll rally soon after the decision was announced, the Congress president said the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief is a terrorist and the strictest action should be taken against him.
“Who had sent him there? He is being designated, but who sent him there in the first place? How did he reach Pakistan? Has the Congress party sent him to Pakistan? Which government had negotiated with terrorism, bowed in front of terrorism, who sent him back?,” he asked, alluding to Azhar’s release in the Kandahar hijacking case during the NDA rule in 1999.
“The Congress did not send him (Azhar) back. The reality is that the BJP compromises (with terrorism). The Congress has never done such a thing. The Congress party has never sent a terrorist to Pakistan and will never do so,” Gandhi, who was flanked by senior Congress leaders P Chidambaram, Ahmed Patel, Anand Sharma and Randeep Surjewala, said.
Azhar and two other terrorists ― Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh ― were released by the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government in exchange for the passengers held hostage on board Indian Airlines flight IC-814, which was hijacked to Kandahar in Afghanistan.
Then foreign minister Jaswant Singh had accompanied Azhar in a special aircraft and National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, then a top Intelligence Bureau (IB) official, was in Kandahar as part of India’s negotiating team when the terrorists were handed over.
Accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of taking credit for the Army’s actions and ignoring key issues such as unemployment and agrarian distress, Gandhi said, “Modi thinks the Army, Navy and Air Force are his personal property.”
Referring to the six surgical strikes the Congress had listed as carried out under the UPA rule, he said those were not conducted by his party, but by the Army.
“When he (Modi) says the Indian Army’s surgical strikes were video games, he does not insult the Congress, but the Indian Army.
“The Army had done this (surgical strikes). It is their job. We do not politicise the Army. It is the Indian Army, not a particular person’s Army. The prime minister should have that much of respect and not insult the Army,” the Congress chief said.
He said the Army was doing its job for 70 years and had won every battle.
“It is a terrific record. What does Modi have to do with it as it is the Army’s job. Modi should tell the country what is he doing for the youth, what is he going to do for farmers, for women,” he said.
Gandhi also said there was a clear-cut feeling after four phases of the Lok Sabha polls that the BJP was losing the electoral battle.
The main issues in the ongoing polls are employment, farmers’ problems, prime minister’s corruption and attacks on institutions, he said.
“Our internal assessment is clearly telling us that the BJP is losing the election,” he added.
Gandhi claimed that there were signs of panic in the BJP’s poll campaign.
“I see a scared prime minister, unable to face the onslaught of the opposition and absolutely convinced in his mind that he is trapped. It is a panicky campaign,” he said.
The Congress chief once again challenged Modi to debate him on issues such as employment and corruption.
“I can debate him anywhere apart from Anil Ambani’s home,” he said to peals of laughter.
Gandhi also slammed the prime minister over the Rafale agreement and said if Modi agrees to a debate, he will ask him to explain why parallel negotiations were carried out in the deal.
“In the Rafale deal, the ‘chowkidar’ (watchman) has stolen Rs 30,000 crore,” he alleged.
Gandhi also accused the prime minister of harming the country’s economy big time by carrying out demonetisation and implementing a “flawed” Goods and Services Tax (GST).
“He demonetised the economy, we will remonetise it through (minimum income guarantee scheme) NYAY,” he said.
On the issue of his apology to the Supreme Court for attributing the ‘chowkidar chor hai’ (the watchman is a thief) slogan to it, Gandhi said he apologised as there was a process on in the court and he had commented on that.
However, he added that he stands by his slogan against the BJP and the prime minister for corruption in the Rafale deal.
Gandhi also alleged that the Election Commission (EC) is “completely biased” towards the opposition.