Congress MP Shashi Tharoor on Saturday said that the party could have been more vocal in its stance on the outrage over early release of convicts in the Bilkis Bano case and other matters related to attacks on minorities in India.

Addressing the 85th plenary session of the party in Raipur, Tharoor urged Congress members to be “absolutely clear” in their ideology in favour of an inclusive India.

“The tendency to downplay some positions or avoid taking a stand on some issues in order not to alienate what we assume to be the sentiments of the majority only plays into the BJP’s [Bharatiya Janata Party] hands,” he said. “We could have been more vocal on the Bilkis Bano outrage, attacks on Christian churches, murder in the name of cow vigilantism, bulldozer demolition of Muslim homes and similar issues.”

On August 15, eleven men convicted for having gangraped Bano in a village near Ahmedabad during the 2002 Gujarat riots were freed from a Godhra jail after the Gujarat government approved their application under its remission policy. Fourteen members of her family were also killed in the violence, including her three-year-old daughter whose head was smashed on the ground by the perpetrators.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat then. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the violence.

A batch of petitions challenging the decision to grant the remission is pending for hearing in the Supreme Court.

Incident of attacks on minorities have been on the rise in India over the last few years with Hindutva groups openly calling for their genocide and vandalising places of their worship. Several BJP-run state governments have also normalised the use of bulldozers as a punitive action even as there is no legal provision to destroy the property of anyone accused of an offence. Most of these drives were targeted at properties owned by Muslims.

Also read: US government report flags attacks on minorities in India took place throughout 2021

In his speech on Saturday, Tharoor also asserted that the Congress should make efforts to strengthen the secular foundations of the country.

“The fact is that India’s future is bright as long as the Congress fights the good fight,” he said.

The three-day plenary session of the Congress will conclude on Sunday. The party is expected to take key decisions on laying out the roadmap for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections during the session. On Friday, the Congress had announced that it will not hold elections to its working committee and the members of the the top decision-making body will be nominated by party President Mallikarjun Kharge.