Modi trampling on civil rights, Congress charges

Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh (far left) leading the Save Democracy March in New Delhi yesterday.
Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh (far left) leading the Save Democracy March in New Delhi yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

India's opposition party fights back against graft claims made by ruling BJP

NEW DELHI • India's opposition Congress party yesterday staged a show of defiance, with party president Sonia Gandhi, her son and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, and former prime minister Manmohan Singh leading a rally and march to Parliament to resist what they called Prime Minister Narendra Modi's bid to destroy democracy.

The opposition party hit back after facing a slew of graft claims levelled by Mr Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over a helicopter order made when Congress was last in power, reported Reuters.

Addressing the Save Democracy March, Congress leaders accused Mr Modi of trampling on civil rights and of failing to alleviate the impact of a drought that 400 million Indians are suffering from.

"The Indian National Congress will never bow down before injustice," said Mrs Gandhi, 69, who party strategists say may soon cede the leadership to Rahul.

Mr Gandhi said Mr Modi had promised 20 million new jobs each year, but in reality the economy had created only 130,000.

"Modi talked about good days to come, but today, the country is reeling under drought and farmers are committing suicide," said the 45-year-old heir apparent, whose father, grandmother and great- grandfather were all prime ministers. "But Modi has nothing to say."

VERY OLD GAME

To divert attention from their failures in the last two years, the BJP has started a game of making false allegations against the other leaders. This is a very old game. We will strongly protest this injustice both inside and outside the Parliament.

MRS SONIA GANDHI, president of the opposition Congress party, on claims levelled against it by the ruling BJP.

"I want to tell the BJP: This is a country of democracy. It belongs to everyone, not a single person. We will fight for the farmers and people of this country," he said, the Firstpost website reported.

The BJP dismissed the rally as an attempt to divert attention from the helicopter scandal, known as "Choppergate", that has dominated news headlines for weeks. "The Congress is accusing Modi because we have proof to show that the Gandhi family was involved in a series of scams," Mr Shrikant Sharma, BJP national general secretary, told Reuters. "They stand exposed."

Congress has rejected accusations from Mr Modi's allies that the party's leaders were either complicit in, or had blocked probes into, corrupt payments linked to an order of a dozen helicopters from Italy.

"To divert attention from their failures in the last two years, the BJP has started a game of making false allegations against the other leaders. This is a very old game," Mrs Gandhi said at the rally, according to Firstpost.

"We will strongly protest this injustice both inside and outside the Parliament. I appeal to everyone to go to all corners of the nation and expose the true face of the Modi government," she said. "We will not let anyone destroy the democratic traditions of this nation."

An appeals court in the Italian city of Milan recently sentenced the former bosses of Finmeccanica and its AgustaWestland unit to jail terms for false accounting and corruption in the US$640 million (S$870 million) order that was scrapped just before the 2014 general election, according to Reuters.

Mrs Gandhi, her son and Mr Singh were briefly detained by the police during the protest march for violating prohibitory orders, but they were later released.

Meanwhile, India's Supreme Court yesterday heard a petition brought by a New Delhi lawyer calling for it to set up a special investigation team to probe the alleged corruption. It gave the government and India's Central Bureau of Investigation four weeks to respond.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2016, with the headline 'Modi trampling on civil rights, Congress charges'. Print Edition | Subscribe