India's main opposition stages rally to mark 1,000km of its protest march

Police frisk Congress party supporters as they arrive to attend a rally in Ballari, Karnataka, on Oct 15, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

BALLARI, India - India's main opposition Congress party held a huge public rally in the southern Indian state of Karnataka on Saturday, accusing the government of not doing enough to contain inflation and create promised jobs for young people.

Tens of thousands of people came to the public meeting, organised to mark 1,000km of the party's five-month-long protest march named Bharat Jodo Yatra, or Unite India, rally.

The party launched the more than 3,500km, cross-country march in September from the coastal town of Kanyakumari on the southern tip of India to Srinagar in the region of Jammu and Kashmir to mobilise people ahead of the 2024 national elections.

"The prime minister used to complain an LPG (cooking gas) cylinder cost 400 rupees (S$6.93). Now, it costs more than 1,000 rupees. Can he answer our people today?" Mr Rahul Gandhi, the party's former president and son of Mrs Sonia Gandhi asked amid applause.

He said the government's policies over the last eight years have led to record-breaking unemployment and price rises, while its leaders are spreading communal hatred among people over religious issues.

The government says it has contained inflation amid climbing global energy and food prices, and is boosting local manufacturing, while denying charges of spreading hatred.

The Congress party, facing a slide in its fortunes after losing many state elections in a row, is preparing to elect a new president from outside the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty for the first time in nearly 25 years.

Many people, including civil society groups, still place hope in the party, which helped lead India's struggle for independence from Britain and dominated politics for decades after it was achieved in 1947.

"Our living standard has come down over the last few years due to rising prices, while income remains stagnant," said Mr Raghavendra Gadag, 39, a transporter, who came to the Congress meeting.

"I hope the Congress can still come back, at least in the state of Karnataka," he said, referring to elections in 2023.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains popular despite criticism over high inflation and unemployment, and his Bharatiya Janata party expects to hold power in the northern state of Himachal Preadesh and western Gujarat state assembly elections due later in 2022. REUTERS

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