On a day when the Congress organised nationwide protests against price rise, unemployment and imposition of goods and services tax (GST) on essential commodities, former party chief Rahul Gandhi on Friday said India was witnessing the ‘death of democracy’.
Mr. Gandhi said anybody who raised people’s issues and stood up against the “onset of dictatorship is viciously attacked and put in jail”.
The issue also forced adjournments in both Houses of Parliament as Congress members registered their strong protest.
Wearing black clothes to protest against inflation and unemployment, Congress leaders not only hit the streets but were also engaged in dramatic stand-offs with the police personnel outside the Parliament complex and the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters.
Top leaders including Mr. Gandhi, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, Lok Sabha leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, general secretaries K.C. Venugopal, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were detained by the police.
There were dramatic moments outside the AICC headquarters as Ms. Vadra climbed over a barricade and sat on an impromptu protest.
Stopped by police
In Parliament, after getting both the Houses adjourned, Congress members, including party chief Sonia Gandhi, assembled at Gate number 1 before attempting to march towards the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The Congress MPs were, however, stopped by the Delhi Police close to Vijay Chowk lawns and were not allowed to proceed towards the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Ms. Gandhi, who along with other women MPs was holding a banner, didn’t take part in the march.
The other MPs were detained by the police at Vijay Chowk. Former Union Minister P. Chidambaram, Manish Tewari, other Lok Sabha members Manickam Tagore, Gaurav Gogoi were among the 64 MPs who were taken away in a police bus to the Kingsway Camp police lines.
“We are here to raise the issue of price rise,” Mr. Gandhi said just before his arrest and added, “democracy is being murdered”.
Accusing that his parliamentary colleagues were being manhandled, Mr. Gandhi posted pictures of Dean Kuriakose being forcibly taken away and Mr. Venugopal and Mr. Chowdhury resisting police action by lying on the road. Videos released by the party showed the Congress leader trying to rescue his colleague, Deepender Hooda, who was being dragged by police personnel.
“Democracy is a memory,” tweeted the former Congress chief along with the photos that he captured on his mobile phone.
Similar face-offs were witnessed in the party headquarters that had been completely barricaded to prevent a march to the Prime Minister’s official residence by Congress Working Committee (CWC) members.
Dressed in black, Ms. Vadra, a CWC member, defied police restrictions by jumping over barricades and briefly sitting on a dharna before being forcibly dragged by women officers into a police vehicle.
“They think that by putting up a show of power, they can silence us and force us into a compromise. Why will we do that? Their ministers cannot see the price rise, so we wanted to walk to the Prime Minister’s house and show him the high inflation, show him the gas cylinder the price of which is sky high,” Ms. Vadra said, sitting inside the police vehicle.
The stage for confrontation was set by an aggressive morning press conference by Mr. Gandhi in which he blasted the Narendra Modi government.
“There is no democracy in India and there is a dictatorship of four people”, he alleged.
“What we are witnessing is the death of democracy. That is what India is witnessing. What India has built brick by brick, starting almost a century ago, is basically being destroyed in front of your eyes,” Mr. Gandhi added.
Flanked by Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and communication chief Jairam Ramesh, the Congress leader asserted that the Opposition, in a democracy, can fight on the strength of institutions, be it the judicial structure, the electoral structure or the media but they now support the government as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
“My problem is that I speak the truth and I do not fear anything. I will raise issues of price rise, and I will be attacked more. But, the one who threatens himself fears. They [the Modi government] fear price rise, unemployment and the power of people,” he noted.
He said the Gandhi family was attacked because it fights for an ideology, democracy and for communal harmony.
Targeting Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Mr. Gandhi claimed she doesn’t understand the economy and the claims that she is making are “just complete nonsense”.
“Congress MPs have just been released after being detained for almost 6 hours for protesting peacefully and democratically against price rise, unemployment and GST,” tweeted Mr. Ramesh on Friday night.