Sparring between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress on Monday intensified over Markandey Katju's controversial remarks against Narendra Modi and subsequently Arun Jaitley, as the opposition party demanded dismissal of the Press Council chairman.
Rejecting the BJP's demand, All India Congress Committee general secretary Digvijay Singh jumped to Katju's defence, saying he had always been impartial and wondered whether Jaitley was reacting in this manner because he owed his Rajya Sabha seat to Gujarat Chief Minister Modi.
Upping the ante against the Press Council of India chief, BJP leader Yashwant Sinha accused Katju of "crossing the red lines repeatedly and not using the language befitting a former judge”.
"Katju has been crossing the red lines repeatedly through his various press statements. I don't know what kind of judge Katju was, but I am convinced he does not deserve to be the chairman of an important body like the Press Council of India. He should be dismissed immediately. There is no point in asking for his resignation. He has no business interfering in politics. The press council chairman is not going to determine who is going to be the prime minister of this country," Sinha said.
Katju and Jaitley had on Sunday engaged in a spat over the former's article in newspaper which criticised Modi.
"This is not part of his jurisdiction. What he has done is that he has confused his personal opinion with that of the PCI chairman, therefore he does not deserve to hold the office of the PCI chairman," Sinha said.
Digvijay Singh, however, dismissed Jaitley's stringent criticism of Katju, asking, "Is it because he owes his Rajya Sabha seat to Narendra Modi that Arun Jaitley feels that he should defend Narendra Modi? I think Arun Jaitley should not comment like this, it is unbecoming of the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha."
Slamming Jaitley for his attack on the PCI chairman, Digvijay Singh said that Katju had always been impartial and sensitive to the people's cause.
"Why did Arun Jaitley keep quiet when he brought out the issues against the chief minister of Maharashtra, against the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, against the home ministry in the arrest of Iftekhar Gilani, when he sort of publicly rebutted the police in the case of gang-rape in Delhi? He kept quiet on those occasions," the Congress leader added.
Digvijay was asked if the incident reflected the BJP's reluctance to take criticism, to which he said, "The fact is that they are a fascist ideology who can't take criticism, who believe in either you are my way or the highway."
Yashwant Sinha said that he found Katju using words like "non-sense" and "rubbish" against Jaitley, something unbecoming of a judge.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi trashed Jaitley's comment -- that Katju was "more Congress than Congress" -- questioning whether everybody who has criticised Modi was a Congress stooge.
"I am astonished at the outburst (of Jaitley). Over the last eleven years, people of all colours, parties, persuasions and views have at different times criticised and even condemned Modi. Does it mean all of them are Congressmen? Anybody who criticised Modi becomes a Congress stooge. In that case, thousands of people of the country -- unconnected with politics, connected with politics, whosoever has done so must be treated as a Congress member," Singhvi said.
The Lok Janashakti Party also backed Katju -- saying that be it Gujarat or Bihar, National Democratic Alliance governments are "playing the game of statistics and manipulation" in the name of development and criticised Jaitley for his "unjustified" anger.
"Jaitley should talk after due consideration. Katju speaks on the basis of facts. The BJP is attacking PCI chairman unnecessarily. In a similar manner, the NDA government in Bihar has gagged the media. We support Katju on whatever he has said over the situation in Gujarat now and Bihar in the past," party chief Ram Vilas Paswan said.
A three-member team constituted by Katju over the media situation in Bihar had said that the state media is facing some sort of censorship and is not able to function freely. Katju had invited sharp criticism from some quarters even then.
Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said whatever observations Justice Katju had made were his personal observations.
“He is working as an independent person, as chairman of the Press Council of India, and he is a man of reputation. The BJP is in the habit of making baseless allegations,” Alvi said.