Democracy is in danger, stresses Opposition at mega Delhi rally 

INDIA bloc puts up united show in solidarity with Delhi CM Kejriwal and former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren; leaders urge EC to ensure a level playing field, seek SC probe in poll bonds

Updated - April 01, 2024 07:08 am IST

Published - March 31, 2024 09:26 pm IST - New Delhi 

Opposition leaders join hands during INDIA bloc’s ‘Loktantra Bachao Rally’ at Ramlila Maidan, in New Delhi on March 31, 2024.

Opposition leaders join hands during INDIA bloc’s ‘Loktantra Bachao Rally’ at Ramlila Maidan, in New Delhi on March 31, 2024. | Photo Credit: Shashi Shekhar Kashyap

Under the banner of “Loktantra Bachao” or “Save Democracy”, leaders of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) stood united at Ramlila Maidan in solidarity with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and former Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, who were arrested in separate cases by the Enforcement Directorate. The bloc also laid down their 2024 general election pitch calling it a “fight to save the Constitution”. 

In speech after speech, the Opposition leaders lamented the lack of level playing field for them in the election, citing “coercive action” by Central agencies against them and income tax notices financially crippling them. 

INDIA bloc rally updates 

This was in effect the first public meeting of the 10-month old INDIA bloc, which has been marked by desertions and conflicts over seat-sharing arrangements. With the presence of leaders of different persuasions united under the anti-BJP umbrella, the meeting was not without its contradictions. The irony that the venue in 2011 hosted the Anna Hazare movement — that led to the rise of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and fall of the Congress governments in the Centre and Delhi — was also not lost on the assembled crowd. Congress caps and flags vied for space with AAP banners. 

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi asserted that without EVM manipulation and other intimidatory tactics, the BJP and its allies can’t cross 180 seats in the upcoming general election. 

“When pressure is put on umpires and captains, players are bought off and the match is won in cricket, it is called match-fixing. We have Lok Sabha election before us. Who selected the umpires? Before the match started, two players were arrested... Narendra Modi is trying to do match-fixing in the election,” Mr. Gandhi said.

The BJP is raising the slogan of getting 400 seats but without EVMs, “match-fixing”, pressuring media and buying them, it will not be able to reach even 180 seats, he claimed. 

Mr. Gandhi sought to remind the crowd of remarks from a BJP MP, who he did not name, that the BJP will change the Constitution when it gets over 400 seats. Sounding an alarm, Mr. Gandhi said, “If the Constitution is finished, this country will be finished” and “the country will be torn apart into different states.” 

Wives of both incarcerated leaders - Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Soren - spoke at the event. Sunita Kejriwal read out a message from the jailed Chief Minister, in which he promised five guarantees - 24X7 power supply, free electricity for poor, government schools and mohalla clinics in every village, a multi-specialty government hospital in every district and minimum support price (MSP) for all crops in adherence to the Swaminathan report. But before reading out his message, Ms. Kejriwal said, “Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi put my husband in custody. Do you all believe that he did the right thing? Do you believe that Kejriwal ji is a true patriot and honest person? These BJP supporters are saying that since Kejriwal is in custody, he should resign. Do you all believe he should resign?”

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge likened the BJP and RSS to “poison”. “You have to decide if you want democracy or dictatorship... Those who support dictatorship need to be kicked out of the country. The BJP and RSS are like poison. You will die even if you taste poison,” Mr. Kharge said. The Congress president also spoke to his allies, asking them to overcome their differences. He spoke about the Left and Congress’s electoral contest in Kerala but their unity at national level. Addressing Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann directly, he said, “We need to unite and only then will we be able to fight the BJP. We won’t succeed if we keep attacking and fighting each other,” he added.

The rally also served as an opportunity for many INDIA bloc participants to recommit themselves to the anti-BJP alliance. Trinamool Congress which had refused to concede any seat to Congress in West Bengal asserted that it “was, is, and will be part of the INDIA bloc.” The crowd roared in response to this remark made by Trinamool’s Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’ Brien.  

RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav regaled the crowd with a parody of “Tum Toh Dhokhebaaz Ho”, a song from actor Govinda’s blockbuster Hindi film Saajan Chale Sasural. The actor had recently joined the Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde), which is part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. The song mocked the Modi government’s alleged failed promises. He said that the BJP’s campaign tagline “Abki baar, 400 paar” (This time, over 400 seats) indicates that they have already fixed the EVMs. 

Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav commented that Uttar Pradesh knows how to warmly welcome people and also how to bid them farewell. Taking a dig at the BJP, he asked why the ruling party which is confident of winning 400 seats is scared of Mr. Kejriwal and other Opposition leaders. 

But amidst the uniformity in the message, there were also underlying contradictions. Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury in his speech underlining the importance of the venue said, “It was here, 47 years back, that a historic meeting was held where Jai Prakash Narayan raised the slogan ‘Freedom or servitude’ and in the election that year, ‘freedom’ won. Today again we are demanding freedom for our secular democratic nation from certain forces,” he said. 

At the conclusion of the rally, on behalf of the INDIA bloc, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra read out the five-part demands. The Opposition parties demanded that the Election Commission ensure a level playing field for them and stop “coercive action” against them by Central agencies like I-T, ED, and CBI. They also demanded immediate release of Mr. Soren and Mr. Kejriwal. The parties also directed the government to stop financially strangulating them. They also urged the Supreme Court to set up a Special Investigation Team to probe the allegations of quid pro quo, extortion and money laundering by BJP using the electoral bonds.

Congress president Kharge, former party chiefs Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi, NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar) leader Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray, Samajwadi Party president Yadav, CPI(M) general secretary Yechury, CPI general secretary D. Raja, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah, and Jharkhand Chief Minister Champai Soren, among others, attended the rally.

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