#PollVault: Sam Pitroda Puts Foot in Mouth Again, Priyanka Keeps up Attack on Modi

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New Delhi: ‘Lost in translation’ – going by what Congress leader Sam Pitroda said on Friday, it appears he has never really bothered to take the idiom seriously enough.

As poll campaign ended for the sixth phase on Friday, the 77-year-old leader put his foot in his mouth again. A day after he came under fire for having used the words “hua toh hua (it happened if it happened)” while dismissing questions on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, he came up with an unpredictable clarification.

His words, rightly likened by many as akin to justifying the 1984’s pogrom under the then Congress government, were taken “out of context”, he said. He added that his Hindi-speaking ability was bad and what he meant to say was “jo hua wo bura hua (what happened was bad)”.

How did he then end up saying what he said? The Gujarati-origin leader said that he could not translate the word “bura” in his mind and ended up saying what he did, thereby choosing to miss the most value-laden word in his comment.

Naturally, his comments drew criticism from political parties cutting across ideological lines.

BJP and its allies, too, jumped on the opportunity to attack the grand old party.    

The Congress rushed to control the damage, especially in Delhi and Punjab – states with a significant Sikh population where polls are yet to be held. Amarinder Singh, Punjab chief minister and Congress veteran, called the comment “shocking”. The party issued a press release condemning Pitroda’s statement. And so did its president Rahul Gandhi.  

In a morning press release, the party said that it continues to support the “quest for justice and stern punishment for those found guilty in 1984 riots as also the subsequent acts of violence including the 2002 Gujarat riots.”

“Any opinion remark made by any individual to the contrary including Shri Sam Pitroda is not the opinion of the Congress party. We advise all leaders to be careful and sensitive.”

Describing the riots as “a terrible tragedy”, Gandhi said on Facebook that Pitroda’s comments were “completely out of line and he should apologise for it”.

By this time, none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, in a rally, declared that the Congress was insensitive towards Sikhs and pointed out the party’s alleged complicity in the riots in which more than 3,000 people were killed.

Rahul Gandhi gets a breather

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court reserved its verdict on the criminal contempt plea filed against Gandhi by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi. The saffron party had filed a contempt case against the Congress president for wrongly attributing his “chowkidar chor hai” remark to the Supreme Court bench in the Rafale deal case.

Gandhi said that he has already tendered an unconditional apology in the matter.

Nonetheless, the controversial Rafale deal remained a talking point through the day. Former Union ministers and rebel BJP leaders Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan urged the SC to set aside its earlier verdict that dismissed their petition for a criminal probe in the deal.

In light of the new documentary evidence published by The Hindu, they appealed that the SC reverse its December 14, 2018 verdict that dismissed all the petitions seeking a probe into the alleged irregularities in the Rs 58,000 crore deal. It had said there was no substantial evidence of commercial favouritism to any private entity in the deal.

However, later on April 10, the SC rejected the Centre’s plea and agreed to hear the review petition on Rafale afresh. The Centre had objected to the review petition, claiming that the official documents related to defence deal which were published by The Hindu were “stolen”.

Priyanka on the front foot

Away from the national capital, Priyanka Gandhi has been taking one aim after another at the prime minister. Days after daring Modi to fight the elections on livelihood matters and developmental issues instead of doing a hyper-nationalistic campaign, she said that she had never seen “a more cowardly and weak” prime minister than Modi.

At an Uttar Pradesh rally, she said, “The power of politics does not come from big campaigns and television shows. People are the biggest in democracy. One should have the power to listen to and redress people’s problems. He (Modi) should have the power to listen to the opposition. Leave aside listening to you, this prime minister does know how to reply to you.”

“You have been cheated. He (Modi) had promised to check corruption, but now who has been exposed as corrupt?…. He hides the reality with his campaigns,” she added.

She also claimed that while loans of big industrialists were waived, the prime minister had no money when Rahul Gandhi asked for a farm loan waiver.

“If the prime minister is so powerful, he should say why he could not solve your problems. In every speech, he mentions Pakistan, but he should also tell you what his government has done and will do in the next five years. We are here due to you people and you have made us leaders. People are bigger, not us,” she said.

On the sidelines

Meanwhile, the tug-of-war between the Aam Aadmi Party and the BJP escalated in Delhi.

A day after Atishi, the AAP candidate from the East Delhi seat alleged that the former cricketer and her opponent from BJP, Gautam Gambhir, distributed obscene pamphlets against her, Gambhir sent a defamation notice to her, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia.  

In other news, what could become an eyesore for the cause of transparent political functioning, the State Bank of India revealed in an RTI response that electoral bonds worth over a whopping Rs 3,500 crore were sold to the donors of India’s political parties in just the last two months.

Electoral bonds, introduced by the Modi government claiming that the method could lead to greater transparency in donations to parties, have come under the scanner of both the civil society and the Election Commission of India.

Electoral bonds allows a person or a donor company to remain anonymous. Many, thus, view the scheme as legitimising corporate lobbying in a backhanded manner.

The ECI had objected to electoral bonds in the courts but the SC had pushed the matter to after May 23, that is after the elections. The SC bench had said it would need time to review in detail how these bonds work.

In the poll heat, a Newslaundry report by Neha Dixit pointed out a deeper malaise afflicting India’s political practice.

In the detailed piece – which could be read also as a commentary on the Hindu right’s divisive strategy – from Madhya Pradesh, she documents how the Sangh parivar’s affiliate organisations train its members to “battle Christianity and Islam” as their top priority. What comes across is that young men are trained to use propaganda to bring minorities into the Hindu fold.

Such conversions, she reports, is one of the ways in which the BJP prepares itself for elections.