Rahul Gandhi at a recent rally in Surat during his Gujarat campaign break from the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’.
Assam Chief Minister and BJP’s leading poll campaigner Himanta Biswa Sarma today doubled down on his recent jibes at Rahul Gandhi, leader of his former party Congress, justifying and repeating his controversial comment that “Rahul Gandhi, with his beard, looks like Saddam Hussein”.
“I only said ‘looks’,” he stressed in an interview with NDTV.
“Rahul looks beautiful. He is a glamourous person. But, as of now, you compare photos (of Saddam Hussein and him), and see for yourself,” Mr Sarma added, skirting a question on this comparison, with the deposed Iraqi dictator, being seen as a communal spin that fuels stereotyping.
To the Congress charge that he sounded like a troll, Mr Sarma claimed he ignorance on what a ‘troll’ means. When told it basically means being abusive, he said, “I have only given advice that if Rahul Gandhi cuts his beard and all, he will look like [former PM Jawaharlal] Nehru,” referring to Mr Gandhi’s great-grandfather.
Last month, when Mr Sarma first made the “looks like Saddam Hussein” jibe, he had said it’d be better if Rahul Gandhi could appear more look Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru or Mahatma Gandhi.
Mr Sarma also denied there any ideological shift when he left the Congress for the BJP, and insisted that he had “wasted 22 years of my life in the Congress” until he resigned in 2015.
“In the Congress, we used to worship a family. In BJP, we worship the country,” he claimed. Once a Congress minister in Assam, he has since gone on to serve as minister and now Chief Minister in BJP governments.
Sticking to the BJP line used aggressively in the recent Gujarat elections, he doubled down on widely circulated Hindutva theories on riots and other crimes. This included a “love jihad” spin to the alleged murder of Shraddha Walkar, a Hindu woman, by her Muslim boyfriend, Aaftab Poonawala, in Delhi. Asked how he could draw a religion-based conclusion when there’s no evidence and similar crimes have been reported within all communities, he insisted, “The time has come for us to define legally what is ‘love jihad’,” and claimed, “We have many evidence in our state.”
He further sought to put the onus of communal riots on a specific community — making thinly veiled references to Muslims — saying, “Hindu normally do not contribute to riots.”
Reminded about court verdicts in the 2002 Gujarat riots on involvement of people across communities, he said, “I said Hindus normally do not contribute to riots. Hindus don’t believe in ‘jihad’. Hindu, as a community, is peace-loving.”
On whether he could be making the same points if he were still with the Congress, he went for rhetoric: “What is the ideological shift? I have said ‘Hindus are peace-loving’ — will the Congress disagree?”
Even while drawing conclusions in Shraddha Walkar’s murder — when police, too, haven’t alleged any communal angle — he said he would not comment on the premature release of 11 men who raped a Muslim woman, Bilkis Bano, and killed her family members during the 2002 Gujarat riots. “I am a lawyer. I will not speak about a matter that’s in court,” he argued.