The country could plunge into civil war if hatred over caste and religion is allowed to spread, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said on Wednesday, even as he made a fresh pitch for Rahul Gandhi to take over as the party chief in "challenging" times.
Addressing a press conference before the formal launch of the 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' from Kanniyakumari, Mr. Gehlot also said there was a need to give the call for 'Bharat Jodo' as an atmosphere of hate and violence had been encouraged in the country for the first time since Independence.
"We have been requesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi that you should appeal that there be love, brotherhood and harmony among people and violence will not be tolerated. He has not done so till now," he said.
"There is so much polarisation. Hate has been created in the name of caste and religion. If this is not controlled, it can go towards civil war," Mr. Gehlot added, urging action on the message of unity.
Making a fresh pitch for Mr. Gandhi to take over as the Congress chief, Mr. Gehlot, who is seen as a strong contender himself, said that the party will be strengthened to meet the challenges.
"Why does every party member say that Rahul Gandhi should become party chief? Today also, why are Congress men and women after Rahul Gandhi that he becomes president? Because if he becomes president, the party will remain united," the Rajasthan CM told reporters.
Later, addressing a public rally after the formal launch of the yatra, Congress’ general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal lauded Mr. Gandhi’s courage and said, “Nobody can scare our leader.”
Mr. Venugopal said that just as the Congress had fought the British, “It is now time for a fight for a second ‘freedom movement’ against the fear created by the BJP government.”
Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge also launched a scathing attack on the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) divisive agenda.
"Today, once again, our country is being chained by the poisonous ideas of communal polarisation, religious and linguistic hatred, majoritarianism, and caste discrimination," he told the public rally after the launch of the yatra.
Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel said that the yatra was starting from Kanniyakumari, a place where Swami Vivekananda was inspired, and took the message of unity and brotherhood to the world conference on religion in Chicago.
The party also countered comments made by Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma that the Congress should take the Bharat Jodo Yatra to Pakistan.
Reacting to it, Congress' communication chief Jairam Ramesh said, "I don't take the Assam CM seriously because he has to prove his loyalty every day after having been a part of Congress for 20-25 years. He is a recent migrant to the BJP, so he has to make outrageous statements every day. I think the Assam CM is boyish, immature."