New Delhi: The Congress’ ‘fast for harmony’ led to fresh acrimony on Monday with party president Rahul Gandhi accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of being anti-Dalit and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) mocking him for staging a “farce" while its leaders ate “chhola bhaturas".
Gandhi led his party’s nationwide day-long fast outside Rajghat against caste-based violence, communalism and non-functioning of Parliament, for which it blamed the ruling BJP, and to promote peace and harmony in the country. He accused the prime minister of being “casteist" and “anti-Dalit" and said his party would always stand against the BJP’s ideology and defeat it in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The 1984 anti-Sikh riots cast a shadow over the ‘Sadhbhavna Upvas’ (fast for harmony) with Congress leaders Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler, listed as accused for their alleged role in the riots, being asked to stay away from the stage where Gandhi and the other leaders were sitting. While Kumar left the venue soon thereafter, Tytler sat in the audience along with party workers. It gave the BJP the ammunition it was looking for, with party spokesperson Sambit Patra mocking Gandhi’s fast as a “farce" and describing the party’s decision to keep Kumar and Tytler away from the main dais as its “admission of guilt".
According to Gandhi, who spent several hours at Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial, the Congress was fasting against the BJP’s ideology. “We are standing here today and will stand against it all our life and we will defeat them in the 2019 elections," Gandhi told reporters. “A few days ago, a BJP leader said opposition leaders are animals. The truth is that today every person in India is standing against the government, whose approach is against the Dalits, tribals, minorities and farmers," he said, a reference to BJP president Amit Shah’s recent speech equating opposition parties to various animals, including mongoose and snakes.
Gandhi also alleged that the atmosphere created in the country was because of the BJP’s ideology “to divide the country and crush Dalits, crush tribals and minorities". Asked about BJP’s Dalit MPs writing to Modi, he said, “When you talk to them in Parliament, they tell us that Modi ji is a casteist and is ‘anti-Dalit’. Modi ji does not have any place in his heart for Dalits. The entire nation knows this."
The BJP, whose MPs will observe a fast on 12 April to protest the impasse in Parliament, was quick to hit back. Patra said the Congress had fallen into its own trap. “What we have seen from Rahul Gandhi today is not a fast but the farce of a fast. (It was) an attempt by his party to fast track his politics to burnish his credentials despite people rejecting him time and again."
BJP’s official Twitter handle also showed a photograph of local Delhi Congress leaders eating ‘chhola bhaturas’, which they claimed was ahead of the fast. “After moral victory, Congress has now come up with the idea of ‘symbolic fast’ powered by chhole puri," said a tweet with the hashtag ‘RahulOnAFarce’.
Patra cited the photograph and accused the party of “double standards" and making fun of Dalits. Taking a dig at Gandhi, Patra told reporters that “he cannot wake up in morning to start his fast on schedule". Gandhi, who was joined by senior leaders, including Kamal Nath, Mallikarjun Kharge, Sheila Dikshit, Ashok Gehlot, Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken and the party’s communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala, arrived at the fast venue at 1pm while the fast started at 10.30 am.
The fast was replicated across the country by Congress workers in all state and district headquarters. Party leaders said the fast for harmony is also against the communal politics of the BJP and non-functioning of Parliament, where the Congress wanted to debate issues such as the Punjab National bank (PNB) bank scam, CBSE paper leak, alleged dilution of SC/ST Act, special status to Andhra Pradesh and setting up of the Cauvery water management board.
“This is a fight for the ideology and values which India represents. We won’t allow the politics of hatred and division aimed at garnering votes to succeed,"Surjewala told reporters. He said the government had divided the country on religious lines and was now trying to divide it between Dalit and non-Dalits. Asked about the row over Kumar and Tytler, he said, “Some conspirators in the BJP try to find meaning in everything small or big thing."