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Minutes after securing bail in the National Herald case, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul arrived at the AICC headquarters — to a breathlessly waiting party top leadership and workers — and launched a frontal assault on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
While Rahul accused Modi of leveling “false allegations”, Sonia said the BJP government was “deliberately targeting” its opponents and using “government agencies” for it. Slogans were raised saying “Loktantra ke hatyaro, doob maro, doob maro (The murderers of democracy, drown to death)”.
Not just Sonia’s “Indira moment” — Indira Gandhi was on everyone’s lips today — the case, the grand old party is hoping, is the political elixir it is desperately looking for.
So the Gandhis and their ever-willing party wanted to get the optics, politics and narrative exactly right. The entire top leadership, including almost all its 110 MPs, was summoned to the AICC headquarters in a well-orchestrated projection of solidarity. Also present were ex-PM Manhmohan Singh, top former UPA ministers such as P Chidambaram and Salman Khurshid, as well as former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit. Crowds lined the lawns as well as the roads outside 24, Akbar Road.
Every attempt was made to send out the message that the crowds had descended in a spontaneous act of support, though select party leaders had been working on mobilising crowds for at least a week. Only the decision to march to the Patiala House Court, where the Gandhis appeared Saturday, was shelved.
Among those who rustled up numbers was Sonia’s pointsman from her Rae Bareli constituency, AICC secretary Kishori Lal Sharma, who got hundreds from there.
The whole atmosphere was of an election verdict day. Party spokespersons were ready with bytes from 10 am, having been given the “line” for the day in the morning by AICC communication department head Randeep Surjewala.
The Congress, sources said, is gearing up to exploit the case to the hilt. A nationwide campaign would be launched by the party soon to explain its side of the story to people. At press conferences in major cities, senior leaders will argue that the case was nothing but an attempt at political vendetta by the BJP government. A parallel would also be drawn between the case and the “harassment” of Indira Gandhi post-Emergency by the Janata government.
Above all, the case would be used to project the Modi government as an intolerant dispensation, that targets its political opponents viciously. From Ghulam Nabi Azad to Mallikarjun Kharge, top leaders repeated the “political vendetta” line. Noting that Subramanian Swamy had just been allotted a large official bunglow as well as security, they called Swamy “Modi’s mask”.
Senior Congress leaders, CWC members and MPs were parked at the Congress headquarters since morning. The Gandhis arrived minutes after securing bail, and went straight in to meet them. Sonia told them the court proceedings went well and asserted that the party would fight back and not be cowed down. Later, Sonia and Rahul mingled with the crowds.
Addressing the media, Sonia said she appeared in court with a clear conscience like any law-abiding citizen should do. The law of the land, she said, applies equally to everyone, without fear and discrimination, and asserted, “I have not the least doubt that truth will emerge.”
“We are well aware of our political opponents’ attacks and smear campaign against us. This series (of attacks) has been on for generations but it is another matter that these people could never remove us from the way. The present Central government is deliberately targeting its opponents, and for that they are making full use of government agencies.”
She went on, “None of us will be scared. We will continue our fight against them, and our struggle to protect the ideology and policies of the Congress and the interests of the poor will continue.”
Rahul was more forthright. “Modiji levels false allegations and thinks the Opposition will bow down,” he said. “I want to tell every citizen of India that I and the Congress party will not bow down. We will continue our fight for the poor and weaker sections, we will continue our work as the opposition without budging an inch. Modiji talks about Congress-mukt Bharat, but India can’t be free of the Congress.”
Kharge said, “The Congress has the highest respect for the judiciary. Remember Indira Gandhi had appeared before court, and during the freedom movement, Jawaharlal Nehru too had appeared before courts.”
Azad said the Congress was not afraid of such attacks and that more it was targeted, the sooner it would return to power.
Manmohan Singh said the Congress was united in support of Sonia and Rahul. “We will fight and we will give a determined fight because we stand for certain values, certain ideas, certain ideals, and nobody can sway the Congress party from that path.”