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|September 4, 1999||
Manmohan says he was misquoted on RSS role in '84 riots
Suhasini Haidar in New Delhi
Former finance minister Manmohan Singh, the Congress candidate for the Lok Sabha from South Delhi, today denied accusing the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh of having engineered the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in the capital.
In an interview to rediff.com at his residence today, Dr Singh said he had merely stated that certain individuals belonging to the RSS had been named in first information reports lodged with the police after the riots.
"Just as the Congress party did not plan the riots, but certain individuals belonging to the party have been accused of them, I have come to know that certain people belonging to the RSS were also named in some FIRs," he said.
Singh's clarification came in reaction to reports yesterday that the RSS plans to sue him for defamation. "Let them sue me," a visibly irritated Singh said. "I am prepared to show [copies of the FIRs] if they do."
The RSS went into overdrive the moment reports of Singh's speech alleging the Sangh's involvement in the riots were published.
RSS chief Rajendra Singh alias Rajju Bhaiyya issued a statement accusing Manmohan Singh of "distorting facts to serve the interests of his political bosses".
The RSS chief also detailed the services that his organisation had provided during the riots in "protecting hundreds of Sikhs from Congress mobs by providing them safe houses".
Reports of Dr Singh's statement about the alleged role of the RSS in the 1984 riots had created a furore in both the Bharatiya Janata Party as well as the Congress. BJP politicians, including general secretaries Narendra Modi and K N Govindacharya, issued statements castigating him for "trying to rewrite history".
According to Govindacharya, "Evidence implicating Congress leaders in the riots, or rather the mayhem that followed the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, is well documented. What more proof does Manmohan Singh require?"
In the Congress camp, activists campaigning for Dr Singh were also upset. "What was the need to bring this issue up again?" said one. "After last year's assembly election it seemed as if the Sikhs were finally coming back to the Congress. This could upset them."
The issue takes on an increased sensitivity as Dr Singh, himself a Sikh, had refused to contest the election from Delhi unless those leaders tainted by the 1984 riots, in which more than 2,000 Sikhs were killed, were denied tickets by the Congress.
His original statement had been made at the Press Club of India in response to a question asking him if he felt comfortable contesting the election as the candidate of the very party that was responsible for those riots.
This episode is being viewed in the capital as just one more instance of the 'he said-she said-he denied he said' trend in this year's electoral campaign. It comes close on the heels of equally controversial statements by leaders of both the Congress and the BJP.
In most cases, whether it was HRD Minister M M Joshi likening Sonia Gandhi to Shurpanakha (demon-king Ravana's sister), or I&B Minister Pramod Mahajan comparing her to Monica Lewinsky, or indeed Congress general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad casting aspersions on Prime Minister Vajpayee's character, the politicians credited with the statements have all denied them, saying they were quoted out of context, or misquoted. And with only the first phase of electioneering over, observers fear the current trend of verbal mudslinging is far from over.
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