Caught on the wrong foot, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi got into damage control mode on Saturday by publicly chiding Saharanpur candidate Imran Masood who threatened to “chop Modi into tiny pieces”.
Addressing a rally in Saharanpur, Rahul said Masood should not have used such words as it is not the tradition of the Congress to pursue politics of anger.
Masood’s wife Shaima, who shared the stage with Rahul, claimed that her husband was trapped by levelling false allegations.
Masood, whose remarks were the toast of the television media on Friday, was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police for making inflammatory speeches. A local court has sent him to 14 days judicial custody.
Elections in Saharanpur are scheduled for April 10 and the Congress has no option but to back Masood as the nomination process ended on March 26. Soon after Masood’s arrest on Saturday, Congress leaders declared that the rally was cancelled. But Rahul kept his date with the town.
Rahul appeared to have accepted Masood’s version that the remarks were made eight months ago when he was a member of the Samajwadi Party. “A few months ago, our candidate used harsh words for the opposition candidate. That is not our tradition. No matter what the opposition says about us, we always respond respectfully,” said Rahul.
“We want to engage in politics of love. We will defeat anger with love,” he added.
Campaigning for her jailed husband, Masood’s wife described herself as the daughter-in-law of Saharanpur and sought their “blessings”.
Congress leader Rita Bahuguna Joshi claimed that Masood was a victim of a conspiracy as the television footage played on Friday was six months old.
Earlier, at a rally in Ghaziabad, Rahul said the Congress treated Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians equally. “We do not get angry, we do our work peacefully and with love,” he said.
While the BJP wanted the Election Commission to take strong action against Masood, the Congress appealed to the poll panel to drop charges of violation of the Model Code of Conduct as the controversial speech was delivered on September 18.
Saharanpur is in western Uttar Pradesh, the region which witnessed communal riots last year.