New Delhi, Dec 8: Union Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal has joined the growing bandwagon of critics of the BJP Government in Gujarat, which is led by Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
The political battle for Gujarat is heating up. On Friday, key protagonists for next week"s two-phased Assembly elections in the state traded charges without hesitation or qualm.
If an under attack Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was at his Hindutva best at an election rally in Sevaliya in Kheda District, where he charged the Congress-led UPA Government of wantonly dishonouring and bypassing the Supreme Court on issues of national sentiment and interest, there was a strong rebuttal from the Prime Minister and Congress leader, Dr. Manmohan Singh, who took the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to task for describing the Congress as "anti-Hindu".
Dr. Singh, who visited Surat and Rajkot in the run-up to next week"s polls, said: "The Congress has a history of 120 years. The Congress party is a gift of great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Vallabhai Patel. I think to accuse the Congress of any communal bias is an insult to the memory of our freedom struggle."
On Modi"s charge that the Congress was anti-Hindu, he replied: "Somebody is now trying to paint the Congress party in wrong colours. It is a measure of the fear and the uncertain future that faces them. This is a sign of weakness and not a sign of strength.
Sibal described Modi as anti-development, anti-Gujarat, anti-people and the man in whose name and at whose behest most of the fake encounters in the state had taken place.
In an exclusive interview to sources here, Sibal said: “The reality of Modi"s vibrant Gujarat was that it was a vanishing Gujarat," and added that he had and would continue to challenge the Chief Minister to come on any platform anywhere to debate any issue that he and the BJP was championing in Gujarat.
“The Congress Party"s strategy is very simple. We are ready to talk about how Modi as Chief Minister has performed, and how he has not delivered on any front. Modi in his campaign has said that he would discuss development in his election campaign. We accepted the challenge. We would like to take him on development issues, whether agriculture, industry, water, Narmada and health. Modi is refusing to discuss these issues. He is only giving statistics, much of which is unrelated to realities," said Sibal.
Commenting on Modi"s claim that Gujarat"s economy had grown by 12.17 percent in fiscal 2006-07 and that this was three percent higher than the national average, Sibal said that the socio-economic review of the state had exposed this statistic as nothing but misinformation that pertained not to 2006-07 but to 2005-06.
He further went on to say that as per the statistics of the Directorate of Economics and Statistics of the Government of Gujarat, the GDP growth of the state for 2006-07 was just 8.11 percent, which was well below the national average of 9.4 percent.
On the issue of public debt, Sibal said: “Gujarat one of the highest indebted states of the country, with an outstanding debt of around Rs.20, 000 per person."
He further went on to say that, as on March 31, 2006, the Gross Public Debt of the State was an estimated Rs.66925.83 crore, which was 30.89 percent of the GDP.
“When Modi took over as the Chief Minister in October 2000, the outstanding debt of the State was Rs.344.5 billion (34450 crores) Gujarat today is the worst indebted state in the country. The average per capita in Gujarat is over 21,000. The debt of the government is Rs.69 crore. The State is now paying Rs.6242 crores as interest per year. These are official figures of the Gujarat Government," said Sibal in the interview.
On the issue of foreign direct investment, Sibal said: "Modi repeatedly claims that Gujarat has one of the best physical and social infrastructures in the country for foreign investment. But it (Gujarat) still lags behind many states in terms of foreign direct investment."
When the minister was asked whether anti-incumbency and dissidence would have an effect on next week"s polls, he said: “There is an element of anti-incumbency. There is a vibrant Gujarat and a vanishing Gujarat, and even the vibrant Gujarat that he (Modi) talks about, even there, the figure is not something to be proud of. Look at the vibrant Gujarat, the number of engineering colleges. Such institutions are more in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Gujarat is far behind."
“Can Modi say there has been an IT revolution in Gujarat or, a biotechnology revolution in Gujarat," Sibal added.
Reacting to Modi"s charge that the UPA Government had deliberately gone slow on the execution of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru in spite of a Supreme Court directive, Sibal told ANI: “When the NDA was in power, 19 people were on death row. Can Modi explain why they were not executed?"
“Any person who believes in Ram (i..e. Modi), must have Ram Rajya. But, at hear, Modi is a non-believer. Being a non-believer, only he can do what he has done to the people of Gujarat, the migrants, the refugees etc," said Sibal.
With reference to the encounter killings in Gujarat, Sibal said that before the arrest and incarceration of senior Gujarat police officer and Modi loyalist D.G. Vanzara on April 25, 2007, 14 encounters had taken place in the state out of which, ten of them involved Vanzara.
This clearly established that Vanzara was Modi"s officer for such activities, Sibal said, adding after April 25, 2007, surprisingly there had been no encounters in the state.
“It is the Gujarat Government that filed an affidavit (relating to the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case). Modi must explain about what happened to Kauser Bi (Sohrabuddin"s wife), What happened to Prajapati? It was an act of grotesque constitutional impropriety."
Commenting on Sonia Gandhi"s statement that merchants of death were operating Gujarat, Sibal said: “ It was meant for the manner in which certain state functionaries are operating. What is wrong with that? This is, what the Gujarat Government, exhibited. The counsel for the Gujarat Government (former Supreme Court Justice K.T.S. Tulsi) has now resigned, saying that Mr. Modi should not have said it. It is that counsel that filed the affidavit in the Supreme Court, saying this Vanzara should be prosecuted. And of course, we still don't know where Prajapati is? We still don't know what happened to Kausar Bi (encounter victim Sohrabuddin"s wife)? And they talk about Ram? If you (Modi) want to talk about Ram, then let's see Ram Rajya in Gujarat."
"The Congress Party has also said, we believe in Ram. When did the Congress Party say, that it didn't believe in Ram. Parties can't believe in gods, individuals can. I'm a Hindu and I believe in Ram. Some people may not," Sibal added.
Sibal concluded by saying that every time he went to Gujarat, the issue of development was raised, but nobody joined in a debate on it. He said the figures being touted around by Chief Minister Modi were completely false, and that his real agenda was and continues to be the promotion of a “communal agenda".
“This should not happen in a democracy. It is very sad," Sibal concluded.