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Attack on Lalu: war of words continues

Special Correspondent

BJP demands resignation of Railway Minister; Left parties flay Narendra Modi Government



Arun Jaitley

NEW DELHI: The war of words over the attack on the Railway Minister, Lalu Prasad, escalated on Friday with the Bharatiya Janata Party condemning his act as "callous, indifferent and politically motivated." They demanded his resignation while the Left parties strongly condemned the assault on the Union Minister.

Addressing a press conference here, the BJP general secretary, Arun Jaitley, said Mr. Prasad's tenure as Railway Minister had been "marred by a sharp decline" in the standards of safety and the Railways had done little to improve its performance.

`Unfortunate'

He said it was unfortunate that the energies of the Central Government, the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs and the Railway Minister were concentrated on an "unfortunate incident" at the hospital rather than on the human tragedy that occurred.

"Not a word has appeared from the Railway Minister as sympathy for the families of the deceased and injured. All we have heard is highly objectionable language used by the Railway Minister against the Gujarat Chief Minister and the State Government," Mr. Jaitley said in a statement. He described as "strange" the meeting of the CCPA and said that it was an attempt to politicise the incident.

He sought to defend the Gujarat Government on the issue of the alleged attack on Mr. Prasad by Sangh Parivar activists, saying that those in public life have to face both demonstrations and protests for and against them. "The Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, had to face protests and demonstrations at the airport in Kolkata on March 12. Even in the Congress-ruled Maharashtra, the Union Petroleum Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, faced protests forcing him to cancel his programme," he said.

Mr. Jaitley said that slogans for and against the Railway Minister were raised at the hospital. He alleged that Mr. Prasad's visit was meant to "generate political controversy" and pointed out that the Gujarat ministers and officials had reached the accident site early in on Thursday morning and supervised the rescue operations. He said that Mr. Prasad had not left Delhi in the morning though a regular flight to Vadodara was available at 6 a.m.

`Pre-occupied'

On the other hand, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said that instead of concentrating their energies on rescue and relief work, the Narendra Modi administration was preoccupied in organising an assault on the Railway Minister. "The obvious provocation has been the Railway Minster's initiative at making public the Banerjee Committee report on the nature of the fire at Godhra in 2002," the Polit Bureau said in a statement.

Even three years after the riots in Gujarat, over 61,000 Muslim families remained displaced and the minorities continued to suffer harassment and a high degree of insecurity. No action against the culprits had been taken and witnesses were intimidated and harassed. The party asked the Government to take necessary action to ensure that the State of Gujarat functioned in conformity with the secular, democratic principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

The CPI said that the attack took place when Mr. Prasad was assessing the situation after the accident in discharge of his official duty. The party national secretary, D. Raja, said reports alleged that the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad were behind the attack. "This cannot be tolerated by all those who believe in secular principles and rule of law." The Centre, he said, did the right thing in seeking a report from the Governor.

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