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Agnipath scheme: Rahul Gandhi at ED office, Congress on warpath

Party disproves apprehensions about its ability to sustain a campaign in the absence of Gandhis
Congress leaders KC Venugopal, Mallikarjun Kharge and Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot during  the protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Monday.
Congress leaders KC Venugopal, Mallikarjun Kharge and Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot during the protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Monday.
PTI picture

Sanjay K. Jha   |   New Delhi   |   Published 21.06.22, 02:07 AM

The Congress on Monday organised a massive protest against the Agnipath scheme and alleged harassment of Rahul Gandhi by the Enforcement Directorate, disproving apprehensions about the party’s ability to sustain a campaign in the absence of Rahul or Sonia Gandhi.

While the demonstrations started on June 13 when Rahul appeared before the ED for the first time, with party MPs and Congress working committee members trying to walk with him in an expression of solidarity, there was a lurking fear that the public spectacle cannot be repeated. Many senior leaders suspected that the Narendra Modi government would ensure the ED drags the interrogation long enough till the workers lose interest.


But the Congress leaders and workers demonstrated extraordinary resolve and managed the most impressive show on Monday, a day after the party staged a dharna at Jantar Mantar to oppose the Agnipath scheme. The party decided to merge both the causes — Agnipath and harassment by ED — and returned to Jantar Mantar with a massive crowd despite the absence of any member of the Gandhi family.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had led the Agnipath protest on Sunday.

While there were doubts about the ability of general secretary in-charge of organisation K.C. Venugopal, he pulled it off with support from two chief ministers, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel, who rose to the occasion surprising everybody. Except most G-23 leaders who have kept away, almost all senior and young leaders were present at Jantar Mantar on Monday. Police blockades at several points couldn’t deter the large gathering.

Party workers have arrived from various states to add political heft to the gatherings. One leader said: “Around 20,000 party workers have arrived in Delhi from across the country. Many were not allowed to join the protest as the police tried their best to ensure that the show flops. But we aren’t going to relent. The workers who have come from outside have been asked to stay back.”

Leaders who spoke at the protest on Monday ensured that they wove in concerns about the new recruitment scheme with their critique of harassment of political opponents by the Modi government. From Sachin Pilot and Kanhaiya Kumar to K.C. Venugopal and Kumari Selja, every speaker described Agnipath as a fraud on India’s youth and wondered how the need for a younger and fitter army entailed retirement after four years.

While Baghel blasted the ED for selective leaks and asked them to start live interrogation, Gehlot asked the police reasons for stopping Congress workers from reaching the protest site.

“Has a single stone been thrown? Has any act of violence happened? We are doing Gandhian protest, why is Delhi police creating obstacles? What will happen if the Opposition-ruled states start doing the same thing with BJP leaders? The situation in the country is very dangerous; nobody knows where we are heading. These are just glimpses, worse things are about to come.”

There was posturing with slogans like “Pehle lade the goron se/ Ab ladenge choro se”.

Youth Congress workers held protests at the posh Connaught Place market, demanding scrapping of the Agnipath scheme.

Congress veterans also caught the police off guard when they started a march from Parliament towards the Rashtrapati Bhavan to submit a memorandum. They were stopped at Vijay Chowk, from where a seven-member delegation went to meet the President. They requested the President’s intervention in the Agnipath row and the Delhi police’s attack on party MPs.

The memorandum submitted by the party detailed five-point objections to the Agnipath scheme. They are lack of wide-ranging consultations, an extremely short training period of six months and an unusually brief service of 42 months, age of recruitment (17.5-21 years) excluding a large number of aspirants,  soldiers not being motivated enough and the offer of post-retirements opportunities as an alleged after-thought and ad-hocism of the worst kind. 

Demanding withdrawal of the scheme and initiation of a consultation process involving all stakeholders on how to improve the armed forces, the memorandum said: “It makes a mockery of training, inducts into defence forces an ill-trained and ill-motivated soldier; and discharges a young, disappointed and unhappy ex-soldier in the society.”

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