Rahul Gandhi paid homage at the samadhi of BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Monday, prompting the Congress to underscore that the former Prime Minister had faith in the Constitution, and the toxic form of communalism visible now was not seen during the BJP-led governments he helmed at the Centre.
The Congress barely concealed its intent to distinguish between Vajpayee’s tenure and that of Narendra Modi, hinting that the former Prime Minister was not animated by the agenda to destroy constitutional rule.
“Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister who told the then Gujarat chief minister in 2002 to follow Raj Dharma, which was a direction to follow the Constitution. It is a pity, Mr Modi never learnt that lesson and has kept the Constitution at bay,” Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said.
“We only hope and pray that today, after seeing Rahulji at Atalji’s samadhi, Mr Modi will realise that his utmost duty is to safeguard the Constitution and stop the violence in his name that’s happening and I think, that is the message that Shri Rahul Gandhi was trying to deliver. We don’t believe India should be BJP-mukt. They have their own ideology and it has its space in the country. But the toxic form of that ideology that we see today — one particular community is being targeted in the name of ideology, people are beaten up and killed — we will definitely fight against that,” Shrinate added.
Communalism was indisputably the main plank against the Vajpayee government and the then Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, sewed up a national coalition that replaced the BJP-led NDA government in the name of protecting secularism.
While Vajpayee didn’t have a majority on the BJP’s own strength and ran a coalition, his personal style was consensual and he tried to respond to democratic pressures. He not only removed his most important cabinet colleague, George Fernandes, after the Tehelka scandal but also ordered a probe, unlike Modi who steamrollered the demands for an investigation into the Rafale deal.
Although some proponents of secularism frown on the tendency to differentiate between Vajpayee and Modi because both represented RSS philosophy, many Congress leaders defend this, flagging the current regime’s scant regard for democratic principles and constitutional morality.
The Congress maintained a systemic relationship with the Vajpayee government. The personal relations of Opposition leaders with key functionaries of the government were not strained. But Modi’s arrival burnt those bridges and Congress leaders, particularly the Nehru-Gandhi family, were treated as enemies.
Rahul not only paid homage to Vajpayee but visited the samadhi of another non-Congress former Prime Minister, Chaudhary Charan Singh. He also paid tribute at the samadhis of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
The Congress has invited Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, BSP supremo Mayawati, Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Jayant Chaudhary and a few others to join the Bharat Jodo Yatra when it resumes on January 3.
The Congress has been keen to send out the message that the Yatra is not exclusively a party affair and anybody concerned about the future of democracy may join. Many civil society members have supported the Yatra from the outset and leaders from different parties have joined the walk in different states. While DMK leader Kanimozhi walked with Rahul in Haryana, Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin flagged off the Yatra in Kanyakumari.
In Maharashtra, Shiv Sena leaders Aditya Thackeray and NCP leader Supriya Sule joined the walk. Leaders of the JMM joined in Madhya Pradesh. Leaders of the RJD, JDU, Trinamul Congress, National Conference, PDP and the Left have also been invited.
The country needs unity and anybody who wants to contribute to this mission is welcome, Shrinate said. Professionals from various fields, activists, actors and writers have joined the walk over the past 109 days.
The Congress sought an apology from the BJP for spreading the rumour that Rahul Gandhi was taking a break to go abroad for Christmas. Shrinate recalled how the BJP spread lies about the Yatra from the first day and tried to defame it by using an army of trolls and friendly journalists instead of seriously engaging with the Congress on the issues it raised.
Party communications chief Jairam Ramesh iterated his charge of interrogation of Yatra participants by the Intelligence Bureau and alleged that two officers from the Haryana IB unit had visited the Yatra campsite for unknown reasons.
“They were caught inside the container. When asked, they said they were using the toilet. There is no need to get inside the containers because there are enough toilets at the campsite. We have registered a complaint with police,” he said.