New Delhi: A political slugfest broke out between the Congress and the ruling BJP after Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s car was on Friday stoned and windows broken by hostile black flag-waving crowds during his tour of a flood-hit town in the state’s Banaskantha district.
The opposition Congress called it a “dastardly act by BJP goons” and asked if Prime Minister Narendra Modi could answer the security lapse in his home state, while Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel claimedg that Gandhi denied a bullet proof car and kept on hopping from one car to another in an “irresponsible” action.
Congress national spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said: “Rahulji is an SPG protectee. An attack under Gujarat BJP government’s watch reflects not only serious lapse but tacit complicity. Will the Prime Minister answer?”
Condemning the attack, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said: “The damage done to the motorcade and injury to security personnel clearly shows that it was a well-organised attack on Rahul Gandhi to harm him physically.”
“We strongly condemn the cult of violence for which the BJP and its cadres are famous. This is being deliberately done by the BJP to create an atmosphere of fear in the state of Gujarat just before the assembly elections. This is yet another example of intolerance exhibited by the BJP and its workers openly.”
As the Congress ridiculed Modi’s “sheer” aerial visit to the flood-hit north Gujarat, the BJP and Chief Minister Vijay Rupani asserted that Gandhi was milking a human tragedy for political ends and spent only a few minutes at affected places during his tour.
Rupani had on Thursday completed a five-day camp in Banaskantha wading through waist-deep water as well as reaching affected people in boats. Later, he announced a Rs 1,500 crore relief package days after Modi assured central assistance of Rs 500 crore.
At village after village, in several places, Gandhi faced crowds protesting against him but he chose to continue his tour, asserting: “I am not scared of such cowardly heckling or crowds shouting slogans for Narendra Modi. The ones who are scared are the ones who do not want to see the truth, or acknowledge it, we are not scared by such cowards’ attempts.
“Aap logon ka dukh-dard sunney key liye aaye, samajney aaye hain, ho sakey jitni madad pahonchane aaye hain, hum en logon se dartey nahi (I came here to listen to your troubles, and bring some aid. We are not scared of these people).”
Explaining why he called them cowardly, Gandhi cited his experience in Runi village. “They were some 10 people, and I started walking towards them. Seeing me coming, they fled. We cannot be forced back by stones thrown by Narendra Modi’s men. I have come to hear your tales of woes. Such incidents happen so that you don’t ask real questions.”
Gandhi, who arrived here on a day-long visit to flood-affected regions of north Gujarat, flew down to Dhanera straight from affected areas of Rajasthan and spoke to people from Manotra village as well as surrounding areas, before proceeding to the town’s agriculture produce marketing yard to meet the farmers and traders there.
As he reached Lal Chowk in Dhanera, he met with crowds showing him black flags and shouting pro-Modi slogans while protesting against him. He was to address a brief public meeting but it had to be cancelled after he was heckled. Police lathi-charged the people to disperse them and Gandhi left the scene.
Even as his car moved on, people pelted water pouches at his cavalcade. As he was going to Dhanera helipad, his car was pelted with stones and some window panes were shattered.
Banaskantha and Patan in north Gujarat are the worst-affected regions in the floods.
Over 270 persons, including 61 from Banaskantha, are estimated to have died and 4.5 lakh people affected.
The Congress has set up a control room to coordinate relief work in the flood-affected regions.
Party’s nominee for the August 8 Rajya Sabha election Ahmed Patel, state president Bharatsinh Solanki and party in-charge for Gujarat Ashok Gehlot have visited north Gujarat earlier. Gandhi was accompanied by Solanki, Gehlot as well as former state president Arjun Modhwadia and Siddharth Patel.