Gujarat Assembly Election 2017: PM Narendra Modi attacked Congress over Kapil Sibal's Ayodhya remark
Dhandhuka, Gujarat: Four days before Gujarat votes and exactly 25 years after the Babri masjid was razed in Ayodhya, the Ram temple issue has stormed back into a centre of a row, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi making a sharp attack on Wednesday on the Congress over its leader Kapil Sibal's plea in the Supreme Court to defer hearing in the Ayodhya case till after the 2019 parliamentary elections. The PM said that that while he has "no problems with Kapil Sibal representing Muslims, why does he have to link Ram Mandir with the Lok Sabha elections. Is this thinking proper?"
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PM Modi was addressing an election rally in Gujarat's Dhandhuka, when he hit out at the Congress over Mr Sibal's remarks. "Now the Congress links the Ram Mandir with elections. They are least bothered about the nation," he said.
At another rally, PM Modi congratulated the Sunni Waqf Board for "their brave stand on the matter and disassociating themselves from the statement of Kapil Sibal".
Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to postpone hearing in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute till after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, arguing that the BJP has said "the Ram temple will be built before 2019 through legal means... They want to make it part of their election manifesto and the court should not fall into the trap."
The Supreme Court rejected his appeal and said it would begin final hearings from February 8 on the disputed site claimed by both Hindus and Muslims. It is hearing petitions against a 2010 Allahabad High Court verdict which divided the disputed site in three parts -- one each for Hindu group Nirmohi Akhara, the Ram Lalla or infant Lord Ram represented by the Hindu Mahasabha, and the Sunni Waqf Board which handles properties owned by Sunni Muslims.
The Sunni Waqf Board, one of the groups who Mr Sibal was seen to be representing in court, disowned his comments. "Yes, Kapil Sibal is our lawyer but he is also related to a political party, his statement in the Supreme Court yesterday (Tuesday) was wrong. We want a solution to the issue at the earliest," said Haji Mehboob of the board.
But Mr Sibal later hit back at the PM Modi, insisting that the board wasn't his client. "Our PM comments without knowing things sometimes. Amit Shah and he said I represented the Sunni Waqf Board. I was never a Sunni Waqf Board lawyer," he said.
The Congress has already distanced itself from Mr Sibal's comments. "Kapil Sibal has clearly stated that he appeared as an individual and not on behalf of Congress... the ideology and faith of Congress is in sync with the judicial process and judiciary of our country," said the party's Jyotiraditya Scindia on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, BJP chief Amit Shah said Congress boss Rahul Gandhi must clarify his party's stand on the Ram temple. The BJP, Mr Shah said, is clear it wants the dispute resolved at the soonest. "The Supreme Court should give a judgment and a grand Ram temple should be built in Ayodhya," he said.
The BJP, whose political growth was powered by its Ram temple campaign in the 1990s, has in recent years relegated the issue to the back pages of its election manifestos. But the appointment of saffron-robed priest Yogi Adityanath as UP chief minister earlier this year was seen to indicate that the party could again bring back the Ram temple issue to the forefront of its agenda as it preps for the 2019 national election.
Yogi Adityanath has asserted that building a Ram temple is a key agenda, including in his campaign for the BJP in Gujarat, which votes for a new government on December 9 and 14. Votes will be counted on December 18. The BJP has ruled the state for the last 22 years.