Two days before the third round in India’s parliamentary elections, the war of words between the two main political parties once again erupted. The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party was put on the spot when the Supreme Court asked for a probe into the role of Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 riots in the state. Congress meanwhile was haunted by another controversy that shook India in the 1980s.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi at a campaign rally -- Congress called for his resignation on Tuesday
On Tuesday, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) decided to strike Italian businessman Ottavio Quatrrocchi -- the only surviving suspect from the 1980s Bofors gun payoff case -- from its list of wanted persons.
The Congress party came under all round attack. Reportedly, the 12-year Interpol Red Corner Notice, or lookout notice, against Quattrocchi, was taken off the list after the CBI received legal advice from the Attorney General.
Just two days before round three of India’s five-phase elections, the move provided readymade ammunition to rival political parties.
Congress is feeling jittery, says BJP
Campaigning in Ahmedabad, BJP leader L.K. Advani said that the CBI’s decision showed Congress was feeling jittery: “Manmohan Singh’s government wants to remove Quattrocchi’s name from the most-wanted list. It is doing this because it knows that after the election it is not coming back to power.”
The case against Quattrocchi, known to be close to the late Rajiv Gandhi, who was prime minister in 1987 when the bribery scandal broke, and his wife Sonia, has taken tortuous twists and turns since the Italian businessman was named by the CBI as the conduit for kickbacks.
He is accused of receiving millions of US dollars in commissions for helping to fix a $1.4 billion gun deal with Swedish arms firm Bofors in the mid-1980s.
But on Tuesday, Congress tried to downplay the controversy saying the Bofors case was a dead horse that the BJP flogged in every election.
“This is entirely between the government and the individual accused,” said party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi. “Congress has nothing whatsoever to do with it. The point is that if there is no main issue pending against him how will you sustain the continuance of a red corner notice? There is nothing political about it. It is a decision taken in law.”
But BJP leader Advani countered this opinion and said it amounted to subversion of justice. “This will be the last nail in the coffin of the judicial process with respect to the Bofors case.”
Ghost of Gujarat 2002 riots
The election season has already witnessed continued slugfest between the two parties.
The ghost of the Gujarat riots came back to haunt the BJP on Tuesday with the Supreme Court ordering a probe into the role the state’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi, as well as 50 other politicians and government officials, had played.
The news gave fresh ammunition to Congress, which was quick to demand Modi's resignation. Over 1,100 people -- mostly Muslims -- were killed in the riots that rocked the India in 2002.
In this long drawn out election campaign, the attacks coming from the principal political parties have been pointed and sometimes even personal. With the final phase of polling scheduled for May 13, the political rhetoric is only expected to get sharper.