The Congress on Saturday said the "mischievous" and "manufactured" allegations by the Gujarat police against its late leader Ahmed Patel were part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "systematic strategy" to absolve himself of any responsibility for the communal carnage in 2002.
The Congress' rebuttal came a day after the Gujarat police's Special Investigation Team submitted an affidavit in a court in Ahmedabad stating that arrested activist Teesta Setalvad was part of a "larger conspiracy" carried out at the behest of Ahmed Patel with the political objective of "dismissal or destabilisation of the elected government in Gujarat by hook or by crook".
In a statement, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said the party "categorically refutes the mischievous charges manufactured" against the late Ahmed Patel.
"This is part of the Prime Minister's systematic strategy to absolve himself of any responsibility for the communal carnage unleashed when he was chief minister of Gujarat in 2002," he said.
"It was his (Modi's) unwillingness and incapacity to control this carnage that had led the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to remind the chief minister of his raj dharma."
Patel's daughter Mumtaz reacted sharply to the allegations, saying her father's name still holds weight to be used for "political conspiracies" to malign the Opposition.
"So their campaign for Gujarat election has begun by dragging Ahmed Patel's name in conspiracy theories. They did it before election when he was alive & are still doing it when he is no more," she tweeted.
"Why during UPA years @TeestaSetalvad was not rewarded & made Rajya Sabha member and why the Centre uptil 2020 did not prosecute my father for hatching such a big conspiracy?" she said in another tweet which was retweeted by her brother Faisal Patel from his verified Twitter handle.
Ramesh said that the prime minister's "political vendetta machine" clearly does not even spare the departed who were his political adversaries.
"This SIT is dancing to the tune of its political master and will sit wherever it is told to. We know how an earlier SIT chief was rewarded with a diplomatic assignment after he had given a 'clean chit' to the chief minister," Ramesh said.
He alleged giving judgment through the press, in an ongoing judicial process, through "puppet investigative agencies who trumpet wild allegations as supposed findings", has been the hallmark of the Modi-Shah duo's tactics for years.
"This is nothing but another example of the same with the added object of vilifying a deceased person since he is unable and unavailable to refute such brazen lies," Ramesh alleged.
In a press conference, Bharatiya Janata Party's spokesperson Sambit Patra claimed that Ahmed Patel, who was Sonia Gandhi's political adviser, was just the medium through which she acted to destabilise the BJP government in the state and damage Prime Minister Modi's political career.
Hitting back at the BJP, Congress' media department head Pawan Khera said whenever elections approach, the BJP, PM Modi and "his ecosystem" put forward "new theories" and even drag names of Muslim leaders.
"In the last assembly polls, Prime Minister Modi's ecosystem suddenly came up with talk of conspiracy against Modi at a dinner in Jangpura in which ex-army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor, former prime minister Manmohan Singh as well as many noted personalities were present.
"They said Pakistan was also involved," Khera said at a press conference at All India Congress Committee headquarters in Delhi.
"Now again, the Gujarat elections are coming, so they have again started. Whenever Gujarat polls come, sometimes they start talking about Ansari, or Ahmed Patel," he said.
Setalvad, along with former director general of police RB Sreekumar and former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, was arrested by the city crime branch for allegedly fabricating evidence to implicate innocent persons in the 2002 riots cases, under the Indian Penal Code Sections 468 (forgery) and 194 (giving or fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction for capital offence), among other offences.
Citing the statements of a witness, the SIT, while opposing Setalvad's bail plea, told the court on Friday that the conspiracy was carried out at the behest of late Ahmed Patel.
At Patel's behest, Setalvad received Rs 30 lakh following the post-Godhra riots in 2002 after meeting him on two occasions. Meetings were also held at Patel's residence in New Delhi, where Setalvad and Bhatt met the Congress leader "four months after the riots in a clandestine manner", it said.
Setalvad used to meet the leaders of a "prominent national party in power at that time in Delhi to implicate names of senior leaders of the BJP government in riot cases", the SIT further claimed.
In several meetings held with political leaders after the riots, it was discussed by the accused person "with leaders of a prominent national party in power at the time to implicate senior leaders of the BJP government of Gujarat in these riots cases."
The record shows that "top Congress leaders of Gujarat'' were in constant touch with Bhatt during the period in consideration. Bhatt was "holding personal meetings with senior Congress leaders as well," it said.
It cited another witness to claim that in 2006 Setalvad had asked a Congress leader why the party was giving "chance to only Shabana and Javed" and not making her a member of the Rajya Sabha.