The West Bengal Congress has shown why it is important to know your leaders more than just blindly hero worship them. While most Congress leaders took to Twitter to remind the world of the greatness of Rajiv Gandhi on his death anniversary, the Bengal unit of the party chose to highlight a rather distasteful comment made by the former prime minister in the aftermath of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
It started with "When a big tree falls, the earth shakes," using the #BharatRatnaRajivGandhi hashtag, which is trending today.This, till date, is seen as the most controversial statement made by the leader as he seems to be justifying the riots following the assassination of his mother Indira Gandhi by her Sikh body guards.
Later, though the party deleted the tweet.
West Bengal Cong tweets & then deletes this controversial Rajiv Gandhi statement in the aftermath of 84' Sikh riots pic.twitter.com/MQZM0wLKC3— ANI (@ANI_news) August 20, 2016
Twitterati made the most of the self destructive gaffe.
Tweeple actually had a valid theory about how the quote made it to the tweet after all.
When you Google Rajiv Gandhi + famous quotes https://t.co/OGaHjIUzNV— Indulekha Aravind (@Indulekha_A) August 20, 2016
Rajiv Gandhi brought mobile phones to India, so that we can take screenshots of deleted tweets pic.twitter.com/91R2Nssa0K— Rahul Roushan (@rahulroushan) August 20, 2016
The 1984 riots have time and again haunted the Congress party. It was only in 2014, that the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologised for the massacre in which 3,000 Sikhs were killed.
Later, Rahul Gandhi displayed reluctance in owning up to Rajiv Gandhi government's failure to reign in the rioters, some of whom were allegedly from the Congress party - a fact the Congress vice president didn't shy away from admitting in a television interview in 2014.
This gaffe, however, leaves the Congress open to attacks from political opponents. This doesn't bode well for the party in the run up to the Punjab elections in 2017. AAP, which has been raising the issue of the 1984 riots repeatedly, has launched a scathing attack on the party for a Tweet in a Facebook post.
Kumar Viswas wrote: "Rajiv Gandhi made a shameful comment justifying the killing of the Sikhs in 1984, who are always ready to lay their lives for the country - 'when a big falls, the earth shakes'. But what is even more shameful is the fact that the Congress has chosen to advertise the same statement today."
Congress is glorifying Rajiv Gandhi's shameless statement on inhuman Sikh genocide! So proud of own absurdity?😡 pic.twitter.com/qJNoJ2D7dy— Dr Kumar Vishvas (@DrKumarVishwas) August 20, 2016
In fact, the party had raised a hue and cry about Congress leader Kamal Nath being made the party in-charge for the upcoming Punjab elections. Advocate and AAP candidate from Dakha HS Phoolka had accused Kamal Nath of being part of the mob that attacked Gurudwara Rakab Ganj on 1 November, 1984. Following the outrage, Nath was removed as the in-charge.
So for AAP, the tweet presented another opportunity to bash Congress on the anti-Sikh riot issue.
BJP, too wasn't far behind in putting out a reaction.
Congress endorses Rajiv Gandhi's abhorrent justification of Sikh genocide in 1984. pic.twitter.com/hiRwtTbNh5— BJP (@BJP4India) August 20, 2016
However, West Bengal Congress leader and leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Abdul Mannan was quoted by Hindustan Times as claiming that the handle wasn't an official one.
The handle, however, has a blue tick, which means it's a verified and not a fake account. The description on the Twitter page reads: "Official handle of West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee. Tweets initialed ARC are direct from the WBPCC President." Thus this line of defence falls flat.
Perhaps, an acknowledgement and an apology could have stopped the blunder from snowballing into a huge political controversy.