DAYS AFTER the BJP government at the Centre celebrated the “Har Ghar Tiranga” campaign, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, while launching his Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir on Wednesday, took on the BJP on its patriotism pitch, accusing it and the RSS of treating the Tricolour as their “personal property”, and arguing that the national flag does not belong to any particular religion.
“It is not enough to just salute the flag, it is important to defend the ideas and values behind the flag,” he said.
— Congress (@INCIndia) September 7, 2022
Congress leaders saw Rahul’s remarks as an attempt to counter the BJP on the issue of nationalism. Sources close to him said he wants to present a new vision during his yatra, which will see him walk across 12 states, covering 3,570 kilometres over a period of 150 days.
According to sources, Rahul doesn’t want to return as Congress president, as he believes that he and the party have to reclaim the mindspace of the electorate through such mass contact programmes, offering a new narrative. If he heads the party, he would be tied down with the nitty-gritty of organisational politics, they said.
Addressing a seaside public meeting, Rahul said the Tricolour represents every Indian – the religion of every single person, state and language of the country. It does not belong to any particular religion, community or language, he said. The flag offers protection to every Indian, guarantees a free and fair life to every citizen, and the right to practice any religion and speak any language they desire, he said.
“Today, this flag is under attack. India is not the imposition of one idea on its people. India is the history, the language, the culture of every single person. India is the institution which protects this flag. India is a free media that protects this flag. India is the judiciary that protects this flag. And today, every single institution is under attack by the BJP and RSS. They think the flag is their personal property. They think they can single-handedly determine the future of the people of this country, the future of all the states of this country,” he said.
“They think they can frighten the Opposition using the ED, CBI and Income Tax. The problem is they don’t understand the Indian people. Indian people don’t get scared… It doesn’t matter how many hours of interrogation they do… not a single Opposition leader is going to be scared of the BJP,” he said.
“The BJP thinks it can divide this country along religious lines and on the lines of language… this country cannot be divided… this country will always remain united,” said Rahul.
In a message which was read out at the rally, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is abroad for a medical check-up, said: “This is a landmark occasion for our great party with such a glorious legacy – the Indian National Congress. I am confident that our organisation will be rejuvenated. It is also a transformational moment in Indian politics.”
Before addressing the public meeting, Rahul received the national flag from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin at the Mahatma Gandhi Mandapam here. Stalin later tweeted: “Today, my brother @RahulGandhi has begun a journey to retrieve India’s soul, to uphold the lofty ideals of our republic and to unite our country’s people with love.”
Rahul began his day by offering prayers at the memorial of his father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in Sriperumbudur. In Kanyakumari, Rahul visited the Thiruvalluvar memorial, Vivekananda memorial and Kamaraj memorial before attending a prayer meeting at the Mahatma Gandhi Mandapam. On Thursday, he will begin the yatra on foot.
There were no Congress flags or symbols at the rally venue, only national flags. In his speech, Rahul also raised the issue of rising unemployment. “We are heading into bad times,” he said. He alleged that the BJP government had systematically attacked farmers, labourers and small and medium businesses.
“A handful of large businesses control the entire country today. Ports, airports, coal, power, telecom and every single industry is controlled by a handful of businessmen. The Prime Minister would not last one day without their support. They control the media and they ensure that the Prime Minister is on the television screen 24 hours a day. And in exchange, the Prime Minister carries out policies that are in their interest,” he said.
He said demonetisation, GST and the three farm laws that were later repealed were designed to help a few businesses. “The idea is very similar to what the British used to do. Divide India, make Indians fight with each other and then steal from the Indian people. Those days, it used to be called the East India Company. It was one company that controlled all of India. Today, there are three-four companies that control the whole of India,” he alleged.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel were among senior party leaders present. Some civil society representatives including Yogendra Yadav also attended the rally.