Top Congress leaders have begun to forcefully articulate their concerns about the crisis of democracy, endorsing what Rahul Gandhi had said in his interactions in London, for which the Narendra Modi government demanded an apology from him.
Demolishing the widespread perception that the party did not join the chorus with Rahul, most senior leaders are speaking in the same voice. In videos posted by the Congress, many seniorleaders, apart from thespokespersons, have not only repeated the charge thatRahul was disqualified for questioning the Prime Minister on his relationship with industrialist Gautam Adani, but have also pointed to the myriad signs of democracy being in peril.
Former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar said:“Democracy doesn’t work under fear and pressure. Democracy doesn’t function without constitutional principles and social harmony. The nation’s assets aren’t meant for one businessman in a democracy. Most importantly, questions are answered in a democracy. The refusal to accept a probe by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) deepens suspicions.”
Meira Kumar, daughter of veteran Dalit leader Jagjivan Ram and the joint Opposition’s presidential candidate in 2017, saw no merit in the OBC propaganda by the BJP. “It is unthinkable that Rahul Gandhi will insult OBCs. The Congress is a party of social justice; it is part of our agenda since the freedom movement and Rahul is a powerful voice for the oppressed and deprived sections of society,” she said.
Addressing a media conference in Bhubaneswar, Rajya Sabha member Amee Yajnik said: “That democracy is in crisis is reflected best in Modi’s refusal to answer questions. He never answers any question. He pushes hisministers to attack anybody who asks questions. Thisattitude is seen from thebeginning; questions on note-bandi, jobs, inflation, GST, women’s safety… have not been answered. Should the Opposition not ask why the SBI, LIC and the EPFO continue to invest in Adani companies?”
Congress spokesperson Gourav Vallabh said: “We are not the only ones to say democracy is in peril. Three Supreme Court judges held a media conference to say that. If the CBI chief is evicted in a midnight coup, democracy is in peril. If a demonetisation decision is taken without the knowledge of the finance ministry, democracy is in peril. If the main Opposition is convicted and disqualified within 26 hours, democracy is in peril. If the Opposition parties are demanding a JPC (probe) and the Prime Minister doesn’t listen, democracy is in peril.
“Modi should himself be interested in finding out the truth of the Hindenburg report (on alleged fraud by the Adani group). If there is nothing wrong, we will garland Adani.”
Congress MP Deepender Hooda said at a media conference in Jaipur: “Any voice questioning Modi is crushed. Not only Rahul Gandhi,any Opposition leader not falling in line faces central agencies. What should the Opposition do — remain silent about scams? Is it a crime to ask questions? The BJP is itself confused and hunting for effective ways to silence Rahul Gandhi.They expunged his remarks made in Parliament. Then they demanded an apology from him for his remarks in London. Then he was convicted and disqualified. Nowthey are saying OBCs wereinsulted.”
Former Union minister Salman Khurshid said: “There are valid questions about the process of disqualification. Why was the (defamation) case filed in Gujarat? Whydid the petitioner himselfseek a stay on the proceedings? How was then Rahul convicted and disqualified in such a hurry? The speed creates suspicion. It doesn’t look like normaljudicial proceedings. It looks like something else. Wewill now defend our leader because he is not fighting for himself; he is fighting for India’s democracy, for India’s systems.”
Addressing a mediaconference in Kerala, former information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewarisaid: “There are two fundamental issues: 1. Whether conviction and sentencing arebad in law; which we think they are. 2. Whether the disqualification is unconstitutional. Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code are very clear that an essential ingredient of criminal defamation is ‘intent to cause harm’. Rahul Gandhi was making a political speech and there was no intent to harm anybody.”
Tewari added: “When we indulge in political polemics, we may have a point of view which the adversary doesn’t like. But there is no intent to cause harm. Then there is an issue of Section 202 about jurisdiction and the Surat court did not follow the mandatory enquiry on that. The disqualification too is wrong because the sentence had been suspended, allowing 30 days for appeal.”
He questioned the Lok Sabha Speaker’s power todisqualify a member, saying only the President cantake such a decision on the advice of the Election Commission.
The Congress is spreading these messages across the country and the campaign will continue for a month in the form of the Jai Bharat Satyagraha. The party isalive to the possibility of overkill on Rahul’s disqualification and hence the focus is on the Adani-Modi relationship while issues like prices, unemployment and attack on democratic institutions are also being talked about.