Alleging that the ruling BJP was controlling media and pressurising the judiciary in the country, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday challenged the government to stop his ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra if they thought it was “damaging” the country.
Speaking to reporters in Akola, Mr. Gandhi, while saying he stood his ground on his earlier remarks on Hindutva ideologue V.D. Savarkar’s mercy petition to the British Raj, claimed that Savarkar had signed the mercy petition out of fear.
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“Despite Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel being in prison for years, they did not sign any letter. So, it is my thinking that Savarkar- ji signed this letter because of fear. Had he not been scared, he would never have signed,” the Congress leader said, adding that by signing, Savarkar was deceiving other leaders in the Independence struggle, like Gandhi and Nehru, by implying that they too should have signed mercy petitions.
He said that if the government thought the Bharat Jodo Yatra ought to be stopped owing to his remarks on Savarkar, then they were welcome to try.
“We are trying to counter the BJP’s approach of spreading hatred and fear by showing them an alternative method through this yatra…normally, in a democracy, political parties fight against each other while institutions create fairness. Today, it is no longer such a fight. One should not say this, but the Opposition has no control over the press… the BJP controls the press, they have control over institutional structures, they put pressure on the judiciary,” Mr. Gandhi said, adding that all Opposition parties were being repeatedly silenced when they tried to address questions of import.
Asserting that there was a culture of discussion within the Congress party and that there were “no dictators” there, he denied that the Congress had become “weak” as the principal Opposition party, either at the Centre or in Maharashtra.
“We have received tremendous response in Maharashtra as the State has the DNA of the Congress,” he said.
Commenting on Opposition party MLAs (including the Congress) switching over to the BJP after being offered huge sums of money, Mr. Gandhi quipped that it was a good way to weed out the corrupt from within a party.
“A Shiv Sena MLA who was walking with me was saying that he was offered ₹50 crore [by the BJP] but he did not defect. Given that India has no shortage of honest persons, those who switch parties for a few crores of rupees are free to go to the other side…that way, we know who are the honest people who will stick on with us,” he said.
Mr. Gandhi denied reports that the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra would not pass through BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh.
“I do not know who is spreading this misinformation of the yatra not passing through U.P. After Delhi, it will touch U.P. While I would have liked to have traversed some more area in that State, it would have affected the route of our rally,” he said.