Doubling down on his offensive against the Congress on the redistribution of wealth, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday seized on Sam Pitroda’s reference to inheritance tax and accused the principal opposition party of planning to tax ancestral wealth people inherit if they come to power.

Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, Sam Pitroda, had backed the party’s stand on redistribution of wealth and advocated an inheritance tax law in the country. Emphasising the need for a policy on wealth redistribution, Pitroda elaborated on the concept of inheritance tax prevailing in the the US. “In America, there is an inheritance tax. If one has $100 million worth of wealth and, when he dies he can only transfer probably 45 per cent of it to his children, 55 per cent is grabbed by the government. That’s an interesting law. It says you, in your generation, made wealth and you are leaving now; you must leave your wealth for the public— not all of it, half of it, which to me sounds fair,” Pitroda said.

Addressing a campaign rally in Surguja, Chhattisgarh, the Prime Minister said: “The advisor of the prince of the Congress royal family had said that the middle class should be taxed more. Now they have gone further ahead. The Congress is saying that it will impose an inheritance tax and tax the inheritance received by people from their parents.”

“The wealth you accumulate with your hard work won’t pass down to your children. The Congress’s hand will snatch it. The Congress’s mantra is ‘loot during your lifetime, loot after your death’,” Modi said, perhaps drawing from LIC’s ad tagline: Zindagi ke saath bhi, zindagi ke baad bhi.

“As long as you live, Congress’s high taxation will make you suffer. When you are dead, they will put the burden of inheritance tax,” Modi told the gathering, which was days after he said in a campaign rally in Banswara of Rajasthan, that the opposition party wants to redistribute personal wealth to Muslims and migrants.

In subsequent rallies during the day, Modi continued the attack, asserting that the opposition party was out to grab ‘stridhan’ of women and private houses of people. He also charged that Congress wanted to introduce reservations based on religion in Andhra Pradesh, taking away the share of Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah too waded into the controversy and stated that Sonia Gandhi and the Congress party were on the backfoot. “Now when PM Modi raised this issue, Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, and the entire Congress party are on the back foot that it was never their motive. But today, Sam Pitroda’s statement has made Congress’ motive clear before the country. They want to survey the private property of the people of the country, hand them over to government and distribute it.”

Shah also demanded that Congress should either withdraw or accept that distributing wealth is their intention. “I want people to take Sam Pitroda’s statement seriously. Their intention is now in the open; its cognisance should be taken by people,” he observed.

The Congress backtracked. In a statement, former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh said Pitroda’s views do not reflect the official position of the party. “But sensationalising his comments now and tearing them out of context are deliberate and desperate attempts at diverting attention away from Narenda Modi’s malicious and mischievous election campaign; that is anchored only in lies and more lies,” said Ramesh.

Pitroda put out a clarification. “I mentioned inheritance tax in the US only as an example in my normal conversation on TV. Can I not mention facts? I said these are the kinds of issues people will have to discuss and debate. This has nothing to do with policy of any party, including Congress,” he said.

“Who said 55 per cent will be taken away? Who said something like this should be done in India? Why are the BJP and media in panic?” he wondered.