So now the Election Commission will question Sonia Gandhi about her "merchants of death" remark, which led to Narendra Modi’s admissions regarding the Sohrabuddin encounter killing.Modi and the BJP claim that his remarks on the Sohrabuddin case were in reaction to what Mrs. Gandhi said about him. This is a wonderful illustration of the Hindi idiom, ulta chor kotwal ko dante (the thief rebukes the policeman). Let’s also hope the Congress president decides to let those party members who stand accused in the 1984 riots get their just desserts.
There are basically two points of view regarding the remarks made about and by Modi, which are stated very clearly by Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar and Vir Sanghvi. According to Aiyar, the "merchants of death" remark made by Mrs. Gandhi and the subsequent discussion of the Sohrabuddin episode has only served to remind people that Modi is seen as a protector of Hindus against fundamentalist Islamic terrorists. This will lead to a Modi victory in Gujarat, because he will portray this remark as a slur on Gujarati pride. According to Sanghvi, Modi’s posture is very similar to that adopted by Adolf Hitler and differs sharply from the Hindutva line as preached by LK Advani--please recall that Advani himself had said in yesterday’s Mail Today that it was OK to call Modi Hitler. Therefore, the Congress should not soft-pedal the riots of 2002 or the Sohrabuddin killing, whether or not it wins against Modi this time.
The other issue related to the Gujarat elections is that of development. Evidently, Modi’s plan was to focus on the economic development that has taken place in Gujarat. However, as this report plainly shows, Gujarat has a growth rate of 8.11 percent, with debts of Rs. 95,000 crore this year. These statistics are taken from a state government report. Anemia and malnutrition have increased, poverty lines have been redefined, food grain production has declined and most Gujarati farmers are in in debt to the tune of Rs. 15,526 (average). The Gujarat government has finally begun to admit that farmers are committing suicide--official figures claim 403 suicides over five years, but unofficial figures are larger. Hopefully, the Gujarati voter will be intelligent enough to see through all this rhetoric, demagoguery and jugglery with figures.
Regarding the Sohrabuddin episode, as one-time special counsel to the Gujarat government, KTS Tulsi states in his interview to Tehelka given after his resignation, the official statement of the state government, which it made regarding the killing (that evidence was planted by police officers and the killing was a cold-blooded murder) and the speech made by Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad (where he asked people what should be done with people who store guns or are terrorists) shows a diametrical opposition in views. On the one hand, the state government is trying to claim that the policemen were acting on their own initiative and on the other, Modi is trying to drum up support for the extra-judicial killing of suspects. If, as a democracy, we have to oppose terror of any kind, we have to use better intelligence-gathering methods, train and equip our policemen and soldiers, not use them as political tools and let them do their jobs within the legal framework. State terror may have worked thirty years ago against the Naxal menace--it will no longer work in a world that has spoken up against Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.