Kharge skips PM’s Red Fort address; Congress deems it a ‘crass election speech’ with point by point rebuttal

‘It pains me to say that today, democracy, Constitution, and autonomous institutions — all three are in great danger,’ the Congress president said

Updated - August 15, 2023 09:48 pm IST

Published - August 15, 2023 11:57 am IST - New Delhi

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge during the flag hoisting ceremony at the AICC headquarters in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge during the flag hoisting ceremony at the AICC headquarters in New Delhi on Tuesday. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

Even as the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge skipped Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation from the Red Fort, triggering a controversy, the Congress hit back with a statement that described Mr. Modi’s speech as a “crass election speech”.

Mr. Kharge contested the Prime Minister’s assertion that he (Mr. Modi) would hoist the Tricolour again from the Red Fort next year, and stated that he (Mr. Modi) would so from his residence.

Also read | Independence Day 2023 at Red Fort live updates

When asked about his absence from the programme at Red Fort, Mr. Kharge gave a range of reasons — from having an eye problem to stating that the Prime Minister’s security protocol wouldn’t have allowed him to reach on time the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters, where he hoisted the national flag.

The AICC flag-hoisting ceremony was attended by senior party leaders, including Rahul Gandhi.

“Everyone says I will keep winning. All the things he said shows his arrogance. He will hoist the national flag but at his residence,” Mr. Kharge told reporters, on Mr. Modi’s assertion that he would that he would hoist the national flag and give a report card from the Red Fort next year.

In his speech, Mr. Kharge referred to his own microphone being switched off in Parliament, and alleged that the Opposition’s voice is being muzzled by expunging words and moving privilege motions. He said raids by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Income Tax (I-T) Department were being carried out against Opposition leaders, and that the Election Commission of India was being weakened.

“It pains me to say that today, democracy, Constitution, and autonomous institutions — all three are in great danger,” Mr. Kharge.

The Congress chief said nation-building is a continuous process and recalled the contributions of all former Prime Ministers, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee from the BJP.

Mr. Gandhi’s Independence Day message posted on X (formerly Twitter) said: ”My mother India is not just a piece of land, it is not even a bunch of impressions, but it is the voice of every Indian.”

Drawing on his experience from the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Mr. Gandhi shared a nearly three-minute-long video to convey the message.

“My beloved Bharat Mata was not a land. It wasn’t a set of ideas. It wasn’t a particular culture, history or religion. Neither was it the caste that people had been assigned. India was the voice of every single Indian, no matter how weak or strong. India was the happiness, the fear and the pain hidden deep inside all the voices,” Mr. Gandhi said in the video.

In the official response to Mr. Modi’s speech, Congress communication chief Jairam Ramesh gave a point-by-point rebuttal and said the Prime Minister had made it all about himself and his image instead of bringing the country together on Independence Day.

“On 15 August 2023, rather than reporting to what his government had achieved in the past nine years, Prime Minister Modi gave a crass election speech filled with distortions, lies, exaggerations and vague promises,” Mr. Ramesh said in a statement.

“To summarise, PM Modi’s failures in the last nine years can be categorised under durniti (bad policies), anyay (injustice) and — perhaps most importantly — badniyat (ill intention). Rhetoric and bluster can no longer cover up this truth which is now evident to the entire country,” he noted.

The former Union Minister accused the Prime Minister of addressing the devastation in in Manipur casually by comparing it with incidents in other parts of the country and showed no sorrow for Manipur turning into a war zone because of the government’s failures.

Mr. Ramesh said that while talking about India’s capabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister had failed to mention “inadequate oxygen supplies and the PM’s failure to order adequate vaccines in a timely manner”, which ended in 40 lakh COVID deaths.

“It takes particular audacity to claim that our borders are safer than before when Chinese troops continue to block Indian access to 2,000 square kilometres of Indian territory in Depsang and Demchok more than three years after they intruded. And to casually lie to the nation, as he did on 19 June, 2020, and claim ‘Na koi hamari seema mein ghus aaya hai, na hi koi ghusa hua hai’‘ (no one has entered our border) as our own troops who have been captured are being mistreated by the Chinese,” the Congress leader charged.

Mr. Ramesh added that India’s demography is being wasted, and democracy and diversity is under attack. “The social fabric of the country has been torn apart through the control of media and the misuse of social media by the Modi government, the BJP, and the hydra-headed Sangh Parivar,” he said.

In a point by point rebuttal, Mr. Ramesh said the Prime Minister’s talk of women-led development is meaningless as the government has not acted on the women wrestlers’ sexual harassment allegations against former Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Singh.

“The only performance has been the 40% ‘commission raj’ of BJP State governments, the function of BJP as a ‘washing machine’ to ‘clean’ those Opposition leaders who are arm-twisted by ED/CBI/I-T to comply with or ally with the BJP, and bringing down elected State governments,” the Congress leader said, responding to Mr. Modi’s statement on his government’s “reform, perform and transform” approach.

“And the only ‘transformation’ has been in the concentration of economic power in select Modi-made monopolies (‘3M’) that is exacerbating price rise and ensuring record inequality, especially the PM’s direct role in directing deals and government revenues towards his most favoured business group,” Mr. Ramesh alleged.

The Congress leader said the Prime Minister had tried to deflect the blame for inflation on the rest of the world, when the reality was that crude oil prices have been substantially lower than when compared with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s years.

“There was a time when the PM spoke of TOP — Tomato, Onion, Potato — and LPG cylinders in his speeches. Today, with skyrocketing prices of essential commodities, his attempt to deflect blame for his failures is pathetic,” Mr. Ramesh said.

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