Opposition showcases unity at massive rally at Delhi’s Ramlila Grounds, slams BJP’s ‘witch hunt’

INDIA bloc leaders denounce BJP government’s vendetta politics, demand immediate release of Arvind Kejriwal and Hemant Soren.

Published : Mar 31, 2024 22:38 IST - 6 MINS READ

Opposition leaders share the stage during the INDIA ‘Maharally’ at Ram Lila ground in New Delhi on March 31, 2024.

Opposition leaders share the stage during the INDIA ‘Maharally’ at Ram Lila ground in New Delhi on March 31, 2024. | Photo Credit: Shashi Shekhar Kashyap

The arrest of two opposition Chief Ministers—Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi and Hemant Soren of Jharkhand dominated the discourse as the INDIA bloc staged a show of unity and strength at Delhi’s historic Ramlila ground on March 31, accusing the BJP-led Central government of a “witch hunt” against opposition leaders.

As the speakers urged people to vote the BJP out of power in the upcoming election to “save democracy and the Constitution”, the stage presence of Sunita Kejriwal, wife of the Delhi Chief Minister (CM) as well as Kalpana Soren, wife of Jharkhand’s former CM, gave an urgency to the opposition battle cry.

Top leaders from the INDIA bloc accused the Narendra Modi-led government of misusing central agencies against the opposition parties, dissenters and rights defenders, the subversion of democratic institutions and deepening social and economic distress amid the rise of oligarchic capitalism under Modi’s rule over the past 10 years.

Also Read | Enforcement Directorate arrests Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in alleged liquor policy scam

While the leaders of the INDIA bloc sought to put the Central government in dock over the electoral bond scam, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur speaking separately, dismissed the rally saying it shows INDIA bloc’s “agenda of corruption” under threat.

The speakers at the opposition rally included top leaders from the bloc such as Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, former Congress presidents Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi; Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar, Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann, National Conference (NC) leader and former Jammy and Kashmir CM Farooq Abdullah, Peoples Democratic Party leader and former J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti, Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray; general secretary of the Communist Party of India Sitaram Yechury, Left leaders D Raja, Dipankar Bhattacharya; Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav; Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav; and Member of Parliament from All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) Derek O’Brien.

Putting the bitterness of the past behind her, Sonia Gandhi affectionately held the hand of Sunita Kejriwal during their brief conversation on the stage. Both Sunita and Kalpana Soren lamented that their parties were being targeted by Central agencies on trumped up charges.

While Sunita read out a letter written by Arvind Kejriwal describing six guarantees that would be implemented if the INDIA bloc was voted to power, Kalpana Soren said she was there as a representative for 50 per cent of India’s female population and 9 per cent of its tribal community. “This gathering testifies that people of this country are determined to end the dictatorship,” she said.

The Ramlila ground in Delhi, which hosted the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance’s (INDIA) mega rally on March 31, witnessed a crowd of thousands of people, breaching the 20,000 capacity of the ground.  | Video Credit: Video edited by Samson Ronald K; Camera by Ashutosh Sharma

Alleging that an influential section of the media was acting like a propaganda arm of the ruling government, the bloc’s leaders said that the opposition is being unfairly discredited and being portrayed as “corrupt and weak”. They cited the latest examples of “tainted” opposition leaders switching over to the ruling BJP in large numbers— following ongoing raids—who are being suitably rewarded by the saffron party.

After the Supreme Court held the electoral bonds schemes, launched by the Narendra Modi government, as “unconstitutional”, many disclosures have established that the ruling party, which happens to be the biggest beneficiary of the scheme, handed over contracts to the donors within days after receiving funds through the now-scrapped scheme. Notably, the BJP has not denied the charges so far.

Accusing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP of damaging the social fabric of the country, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge who compared the combine said: “The BJP and the RSS are like poison, don’t taste it. They have destroyed the country.” Alleging that Soren was arrested for refusing to join the BJP-led NDA, he said: “Modi believes in dictatorship and not in democracy.”

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi read out five demands on behalf of INDIA bloc leaders, stressing that the Election Commission of India (ECI) must ensure a level playing field in the upcoming Lok Sabha election. She said that the ECI should stop aggressive actions of Central agencies, Income Tax, Central Bureau of Investigation, and the Enforcement Directorate, against opposition parties.

Asserting that the attempts to strangle the opposition parties, financially, should be stopped, she said a Supreme Court-monitored Special Investigation Team (SIT) should be formed to probe the BJP’s extortion of funds through electoral bonds, and money laundering charges levelled by the BJP against parties and opposition leaders out for revenge.

She demanded that Hemant Soren and Arvind Kejriwal should be released without any further delay.

Former Congress chief, Rahul Gandhi said the upcoming Lok Sabha election is about saving the country’s democracy and Constitution. Gandhi accused PM Modi of making attempts to rig the election in BJP’s favour. “Two Chief Ministers were arrested months before the election. The Congress is the biggest opposition party and all its accounts have been frozen. Why couldn’t they take such actions six months before the election or after the election? What kind of election is this,” asked Gandhi, accusing PM Modi of “match-fixing” the upcoming election.

Former Bihar Deputy CM and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav termed the ED, CBI, and IT as the cells of the BJP. “There are several cases filed against me, my mother, my sisters, my brother-in-law, all the relatives of my father... Many of our leaders are being raided at present. But they can’t bog us down,” he said.

Claiming that the country has become an “autocracy” under the Narendra Modi government, Uddhav Thackery said: “We are not here for an election campaign, we are here to save the Constitution and democracy.” Expressing solidarity with Kejriwal and Soren, he questioned: “What kind of government is this…you make allegations and send people to jail. We are here for our sisters, Kalpana ji and Sunita ji.”

Similarly, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav said that India’s democracy has been slighted in the eyes of the international community following the arrest of two sitting CMs. Deploring that the Central agencies are being used to financially strangulate the opposition parties in the run-up to the election, he said: “It is a new invention that ED, CBI, and IT are deployed and donations are raised. The BJP will not say anything about this corruption. Why have we not got donations?”

Mehbooba Mufti in her keynote address underscored what many political observers had anticipated following revocation of Articles 370 and 35 A, “Kashmirization of India.” Talking about ongoing arrests of opposition leaders without a free and fair trial, she said, “I’m not talking about Umar Khalid, Sidiq Kapan, and Mohammed Zubair. I am here talking about your elected representatives, who are being falsely implicated in corruption cases and detained without any trial.”

Even though the TMC has shrugged off the Congress’ proposal for a seat-sharing pact in the election, TMC MP Derek O’Brien said, “TMC was, is, and will always be part of the INDIA alliance. This is a fight of BJP versus democracy...”

NC leader Farooq Abdullah said: “All of us have to come together and walk together... We are never going to leave this alliance...”

Also Read | The crisis of the secular opposition

While the rally attested to the opposition’s intent of staying united to fight the BJP, Union Minister Anurag Thakur sought to rub in by alleging, “AAP has announced guarantees without any discussion. Are other leaders of INDIA in agreement with these guarantees?

Kejriwal’s guarantees read out by his wife at the rally were round-the-clock power supply across the country, free electricity for the poor, thrust on free quality school education, and healthcare at the grassroots level, minimum support prices to the farmers for their crops as per recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission and full statehood to Delhi.

PM Modi has centered his electoral campaign around “Modi ki guarantee”.

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