Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday led a protest march against forces of “bigotry and intolerance”, and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “silence” on the issue. The BJP dismissed the allegation saying Modi has been “the most powerful voice against bigotry and in support of harmony”.
Gandhi led the protest march by the party from parliament to Rashtrapati Bhavan and mounted a strong attack on Modi.
She urged President Pranab Mukherjee to use the authority of his office to tell Modi that his “silence” over incidents of intolerance was “unacceptable”.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley rejected the Congress allegations about intolerance and said there was an atmosphere of harmony. He said the country has never been and will never be intolerant.
BJP spokesperson M.J. Akbar accused the Congress of being “politically and morally bankrupt” and “of playing with fire by stoking up sectarian passions for electoral gains through projection of falsehoods”.
In its memorandum, the Congress expressed its gratitude to the president for speaking out strongly and unequivocally against the forces of prejudice, bigotry and intolerance, but expressed its regret that the prime minister “has not deemed it fit to do so”.
“Worse, his council of ministers continues to harbour individuals who are contributing heavily to spreading hate and divisiveness. No action has been taken against them for their provocative statements and actions,” the memorandum said.
The party said India was being set on the path of an illiberal democracy, “whose very spirit is sought to be snuffed out, a democracy, where civil discourse is being vitiated and where intellectual freedom is being stifled”.
Noting that it was a matter of grave concern for all Indians, the party said the prime minister’s “silence and inaction, has only conveyed the impression that the condones all that has been happening”.
“We would like to humbly request the honourable Rashtrapati ji to use the political and moral authority of his office to impress upon the prime minister that this is unacceptable,” the party said.
The nearly one-km march included senior leaders of the Congress including party vice president Rahul Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and Leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge.
It also included members of the Congress Working Committee, party office bearers, sitting and former parliamentarians. Many of them were carrying placards.
Talking to reporters, Sonia Gandhi said the incidents taking place were “not small” and part of a deliberate attempt to show who was in control.
“The ruling class is attacking the basic Indian thought. Intolerance is being promoted to hide incompetence.”
“The president has expressed his views but the prime minister is silent. This makes one thing clear that all this has his approval,” Sonia Gandhi said.
“We will fight these forces with our full might,” she added.
The Congress memorandum accused sections of the ruling establishment of creating a growing atmosphere of fear, intolerance and intimidation.
“A sinister campaign has been unleashed to create social and communal tension with the objective of polarising our society. The pluralistic character of our society is under assault,” the party said.
The Congress said distinguished men and women from various walks of life have raised their voices of protest against the growing intolerance, “but senior ministers have belittled these actions in characteristically intemperate manner”.
Rahul Gandhi also attacked Modi and suggested that Jaitley should visit villages to see what was going on.
Asked about Jaitley’s comment that protests against intolerance were “manufactured”, he said “the RSS and BJP people are manufacturing these incidents”.
Jaitley, who talked to media persons here, said it was not fair to create an issue due to political reasons and then link it to the government.
He said incidents of crime had taken place in states ruled by opposition parties.
He said there was no justification in the returning of awards and the situation was absolutely peaceful.
The finance minister added that India as a liberal democracy was committed to peaceful co-existence.
Akbar in a statement said that “the most powerful voice against bigotry and prejudice, and in support of harmony as the bedrock of our nation’s civilizational values, has been that of prime minister”.
Attacking the Congress, he said “a fading dynasty” was seeking to retain “marginal relevance at a time when it is facing utter disaster”.