Opposition parties on Tuesday hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the release of 11 people convicted for rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case of the 2002 Gujarat riots within hours of his praise for "Nari Shakti" in his Independence Day speech and said this is the "real face" of New India under the BJP.
The attack by the opposition parties came a day after the BJP government in Gujarat released the convicts, serving life imprisonment for the gang rape of a pregnant Bilkis Bano and murder of seven of her family, under its remission policy.
The convicts, who were also charged with killing the pregnant Muslim woman's three-year-old daughter, were welcomed with sweets and garlands outside the jail.
Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said Prime Minister Modi should tell the country if he himself believed in his words when he spoke about the safety, respect and empowerment of women.
"The BJP government in Gujarat released 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gang rape case. This decision brings out the BJP government's mindset," he told reporters.
He also referred to the Kathua and Unnao cases and said it embarrasses everyone in politics when office-bearers and supporters of a national political party are seen taking out a rally in favour of rapists on the streets.
"Yesterday, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the prime minister spoke big things about women's safety, women's power, women's respect. A few hours later the Gujarat government released those behind the rape. We also saw that the convicts in the rape who were released are being honoured. Is this the Amrit Mahotsav," Khera said.
"The Congress asks the prime minister to tell the country that what he said from the ramparts of the Red Fort were merely words, as he himself did not believe in his words.
"Who is the real Narendra Modi? The one who serves falsehood from the ramparts of the Red Fort or the one who gets his Gujarat government to release those behind rape. This Congress party and the country want to know," the Congress leader asked.
In a tweet, the CPI(M) also strongly condemned the release of the convicts, saying "this is the real face of New India -- convicted killers and rapists released" and activist Teesta Setalvad "who fought for justice was jailed".
Trinamool Congress spokesperson Saket Gokhale said Bilkis Bano was "raped in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom and her entire family was murdered and buried in a mass grave".
"Gujarat govt has now released all 11 monsters who were convicted of this heinous crime. Where's the outrage by people & the Noida media? Not even a whimper," he tweeted.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi also targeted Prime Minister Modi over their release.
In his Independence Day speech, Modi had asked Indians to take a pledge not to do anything that lowers the dignity of women, Owaisi said.
"He said something about supporting 'Nari Shakti'. Gujarat BJP govt released criminals convicted of gang rape on the same day. The message is clear," Owaisi tweeted.
Bahujan Samaj Party MP Danish Ali also referred to the prime minister's remarks and said the release of 11 convicts has exposed the huge gap between words and the spirit of justice.
"The world is watching but who cares in 'New India'?" he tweeted.
A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008, had sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment on charges of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano's family during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.
Modi, who was at that time the chief minister of Gujarat, has been persistently attacked by the Opposition over the riots which had left 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead while 223 more people were reported missing and another 2,500 were injured.
The riots had erupted after the Godhra train burning incident in which 59 'karsevaks' were killed.
(With PTI inputs)