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Congress wakes up to protests. Couldn't it have taken the lead?

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 4 November 2015, 10:53 IST
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The march

  • Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi led a Congress march from Parliament to Rashtrapati Bhavan
  • They handed over a memorandum to the President on the issue of intolerance in the country

The timing

  • It\'s been nearly two months since the civil society protests against intolerance began
  • The only incident Congress refers to, Dalit children being burnt in Haryana, occurred two weeks ago

More in the story

  • The potential impact of the Congress protest on the winter session of Parliament
  • What the civil society needs to watch out for

Nearly two months after Hindi writer Uday Prakash returned his Sahitya Akademi award, leading to a series of similar actions by a battery of writers, scholars, artists and scientists, the Congress party decided to catch up with the protests on Tuesday, 3 November.

Led by party president Sonia Gandhi, vice-president Rahul Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, over a hundred Congress leaders undertook a march from Parliament House to Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Unlike the united opposition march that Sonia had led earlier this year on the land acquisition bill, this was a Congress party event.

Upon meeting the President, the leaders handed him a memorandum, conveying the party's "grave concern at the growing atmosphere of fear, intolerance and intimidation in our country, being deliberately created by sections of the ruling establishment."

Adding that the "Prime Minister's silence and inaction has only conveyed the impression that he condones all that has been happening", the memorandum urged the President "to use the political and moral authority of his office to impress upon the Prime Minister that this is unacceptable."

The memorandum

The memorandum noted that a "sinister campaign has been unleashed to create social and communal tension and conflict, with the objective of polarising our society and disturbing social harmony."

Thanking President Pranab Mukherjee for "having spoken out strongly and unequivocally against the forces of prejudice, bigotry and intolerance", it expressed "deep regret that the Prime Minister has not deemed it fit to do so".

"Worse, his Council of Ministers continues to harbour individuals who are contributing heavily to spreading hate and divisiveness" and that "no action has been taken against them for their provocative statements and actions".

Led by Sonia and Rahul, over 100 Congress leaders marched from Parliament to Rashtrapati Bhavan

The memorandum took note of the "voices of protest" raised by "distinguished men and women from different walks of life", and lamented that in spite of this, "senior ministers have belittled these actions in characteristically intemperate manner".

Speaking to the media after handing over the memorandum to the President, Sonia asserted that the events referred to were not "random or isolated" but were "part of a deliberate design to polarise our society and to show who is in control".

She also sought to convey the determination of the Congress to "fight with these forces with all the strength at its command".

Delayed response?

The march came within a week of an array of statements by many distinguished personalities, who have joined Prakash and many other writers, artists, film personalities, scholars, historians and scientists in protest.

RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, Infosys founder Narayana Murthy, and Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan beat the Congress in contributing to the fight.

While the march did end up becoming at least an eye-catching political event, one is not sure how much it will matter at this point.

The Congress handed over a memorandum to the President, urging him to bring Modi & Co. in line

Nearly a fortnight has passed since the only incident the Congress specifically referred to, the burning of Dalit children in Haryana, took place.

So, isn't this a delayed response?

Congress spokesperson Dr Ajoy Kumar told Catch that the party has been raising all the issues for a long time, and therefore, this was not a delayed response. Nor was this random, he asserted, explaining that Sonia and Rahul felt that the government needs to be reminded about its constitutional oath.

Asked if civil society had stolen a march over the political opposition, Kumar said there was no competition. He insisted that the return of awards was not the trigger for this march. The trigger, he said, was a long history of concerning events. He said internally, the Congress was continually looking at ways to counter this 'campaign of hatred'.

What specific step does the party expect the President to take? Kumar said it was all up to the Head of State. He said that no next step had been planned so far, but that planning was still on.

Will it have an impact?

Given the similarity in issues and concerns, it is clear that the march was inspired by the civil society protests. It remains to be seen, though, whether this was a case of the political opposition merely taking a cue from civil society or taking up a task initiated by civil society.

Political analyst Prof. Achin Vanaik says a symbolic impact can not be ruled out. According to him, the independent voices provided a turning point, which led the Congress to join in.

However, he adds that this doesn't mean it'll be some kind of watershed that will contribute to the revival of the Congress. At the same time, he emphasises, civil society must also be conscious - the strength of the protests lies in the fact that they are independent.

If the Congress decides to step up the pressure from here on, it will set the tone for the winter session of Parliament.

There's already work piled up due to a logjam in the monsoon session. The opposition had stalled Parliament over issues like external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj helping Lalit Modi, and corruption charges against Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje and her MP son Dushyant. The intervening months have only given the opposition more fodder.

What will be worth watching is whether the principal opposition party succeeds in forcing the government back on the agenda of social harmony and economic growth.

First published: 4 November 2015, 10:53 IST
 
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.

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