Big opposition rally warns Modi against ‘match-fixing’

Published April 1, 2024
CONGRESS’ Sonia Gandhi speaks with her son, Rahul Gandhi, during a rally in New Delhi, on Sunday.—AFP
CONGRESS’ Sonia Gandhi speaks with her son, Rahul Gandhi, during a rally in New Delhi, on Sunday.—AFP

NEW DELHI: A major opposition rally in the Indian capital on Sunday warned the Modi government against misusing government agencies to alter the election results with a change to the Constitution.

Prime Minister Narendra Mo­di says he would have 400 plus seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha in the elections the nu­m­bers needed to change the secular and egalitarian Constitution.

Under the banner of “Lokta­ntra Bachao” or “Save Demo­cracy”, leaders of the Indian National Developmental Inclu­sive Alliance (INDIA) stood united at the historic 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 their speeches, 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 the parties.

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 could mark a turning point for the factitious opposition. 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.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi asserted that without EVM manipulation and other intimidating 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. “If the Constitution is finished, this country will be finished,” he said, adding: “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 — uninterrupt­ed 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 crops.

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?”

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’ 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 to the anti-BJP alliance.

At the conclusion of the rally, on behalf of the INDIA bloc, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra read out a five-part demands. The 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 dema­nded immediate release of Mr Soren and Mr Kejriwal. The parties also asked the government to stop financially strangulating them and 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 and 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’s Farooq Abdullah, and Jha­r­kh­and CM Champai Soren, amo­ng others, attended the rally.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2024

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