Under ‘siege’, Congress plans massive nationwide protests

President Droupadi Murmu has not yet responded to the Congress’s request for time to meet a delegation of its MPs who wish to submit to her a memorandum seeking her directions to the Centre to take urgent corrective steps for reining in rising prices of essential items

Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said he is “not afraid of Narendra Modi” and will not be “intimidated” by the Enforcement Directorate action in the National Herald case.

Defying a clampdown imposed by the Centre-controlled Delhi Police, the Congress party is preparing for a massive showdown against the BJP-led Union government and its central agencies on Friday (August 5).

As part of its call for a nationwide protest on issues of price rise, unemployment and the levying of GST on essential food items, all Congress MPs and AICC office-bearers plan to march from Parliament to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, at 11 am, while a protest has also been planned outside 7 Lok Kalyan Marg, the official residence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A simultaneous protest will also be organised by the party’s youth wing, the Indian Youth Congress, at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. Party MLAs and senior leaders across all states and Union Territories have been told to carry out a similar agitation outside respective Raj Bhavans.

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The Delhi Police has denied permission to Congress to carry out these protests on grounds that Section 144 is in effect across central Delhi because of the ongoing session of Parliament and preparations for the 75th Independence Day celebrations.

‘Party under siege’

Since Wednesday evening, a huge posse of Delhi Police personnel has blocked the perimeter around the Congress headquarters at 24 Akbar Road and the residences of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former party chief Rahul Gandhi. The Congress has already reacted to the blockade by alleging that the party is “under siege” and that the Modi government was treating the Congress and its leadership “like terrorists”.

The Congress said it would defy the Delhi Police’s prohibitive orders since as the principal Opposition party it has an obligation and the right to raise issues of public concern.

Sources said newly elected President Droupadi Murmu has not yet responded to the Congress’s request for time to meet a delegation of its MPs who wish to submit to her a memorandum seeking her directions to the Centre to take urgent corrective steps for reining in rising prices of essential items, addressing the crisis of unemployment and rolling back GST rates applied on food items. Congress MP Pramod Tiwari told The Federal that the party would march to the Rashtrapati Bhavan irrespective of the President giving its leaders time but said,  “We hope she will meet us as she holds the highest constitutional post of the country.”

Tiwari added, “It is the President who summons a session of Parliament; if MPs feel that their voice is not being heard in Parliament and they wish to convey their sentiments to the Rashtrapati, they should be allowed to do so.”

New-found belligerence

The new-found belligerence in the Congress party comes at a time when its high command – interim party chief Sonia Gandhi and former party chief Rahul Gandhi – as well as party veteran Mallikarjun Kharge are being pursued doggedly by the Enforcement Directorate in what has come to be called the National Herald case. On Wednesday, the ED had “temporarily sealed” the office of Young Indian Limited at Delhi’s Herald House, which also houses the editorial office of the National Herald newspaper.

Also Read: Not afraid of Modi, will not be intimidated: Rahul on National Herald case

The Congress has called the ED’s action against its leadership an unambiguous case of “politics of vendetta and intimidation” unleashed by the Modi regime. The misuse of central agencies by the Modi government to target political rivals has figured prominently in the combined attack launched by the Congress-led Opposition against the Centre during the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament.

The alleged misuse of ED or other agencies such as the CBI and the Income Tax department to harass and intimidate the BJP’s political rivals is also expected to figure in the Congress’s protests. On Thursday (August 4) the Congress had taken strong offence to the ED summoning Kharge, the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, for questioning while the Parliament was still in session.

Kharge was asked to be present at the Herald House at 12.30 PM on Thursday, ostensibly to help the ED in conducting its search of the YIL office and respond to any questions they might have for him. Congress MP Syed Nasser Hussain said Kharge had informed the ED that he had “no problem being present at the Herald House or any other place where the ED wants him to come provided that the time assigned is either before the commencement of Parliament proceedings at 11 am every morning or after 5 pm when Parliament is typically adjourned for the day. However, the ED refused to change the time assigned to Kharge.

Ironically, Kharge had also submitted a notice to the Rajya Sabha chairman on August 4 to allow a discussion under Rule 267 (discussion sought by an MP on an issue after suspending other business listed for transaction in the House on a given day) on the misuse of central agencies by the Centre.

Naidu disallowed Kharge’s notice

Though Naidu disallowed Kharge’s notice, the LoP was allowed to speak in the Rajya Sabha for a few minutes when the House convened at 11 am. However, just as Kharge began to speak on the violation of his privilege as an MP due to the ED summoning him when the House is in session, interruptions by Leader of the House, Piyush Goyal, and other members from the Treasury benches and an uproarious response to it from Opposition MPs forced an adjournment till noon.

When the Rajya Sabha reconvened, Kharge was allowed to put his point across for a few minutes before being interrupted by Goyal and other BJP MPs again. He later joined the ED’s search operation at the YIL office, which went on for nearly over seven hours till late Wednesday evening. Incidentally, Kharge had invited Opposition MPs for dinner at 7.30 pm to honour Margaret Alva, the Opposition’s joint candidate for the August 6 Vice-Presidential polls. Congress MP and chief of the party’s communication department, Jairam Ramesh tweeted, “Mallikarjun Kharge was supposed to be hosting a dinner for common Opposition candidate for Vice President Smt. Margaret Alva at 7:30 pm today. And he is still with ED. This is height of political vendetta by Modi Sarkar!” (sic)

Also Read: Inflation biting you? The Modinomics solution is stout denial

The Congress has maintained that the Centre was vengefully targeting its leaders by misusing central probe agencies because the party has been raising issues of public interest such growing joblessness in the country due to the Modi government’s flawed policies and also the government’s failure in controlling rising inflation and prices of essential commodities.

Congress’ MP Digvijaya Singh told The Federal, “We have never seen a government that is as insensitive, vindictive, undemocratic and anti-people. They have a problem with the Congress party and our leaders, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, because we have been consistently raising issues of the public to which this government has no response. As the government hasn’t been able to silence us, they are now resorting to intimidation of every form but we will not abdicate our duty to the people and our responsibility as an Opposition party.”

Rahul Gandhi, who is expected to address the media Thursday morning before the party’s planned protest, also told reporters in Parliament on August 4 that he “is not scared of Modi” and that “we will not be intimidated, they (the government) can do whatever they like… My job is to protect this country, its democracy and to maintain harmony in the country and I will keep doing that.”

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