Hafsa Ammar is a student of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the National Defence University, Islamabad. Her areas of expertise are hybrid warfare, narrative building, and nuclear deterrence in South Asia.
Rahul Gandhi is a leader of the Indian National Congress party, and until recently, he was a parliament member from Kerala Wanda and represented the Indian constituencies of Amethi, Wayanad, and Uttar Pradesh. The man has always been a vocal advocate of democracy and Indian supremacy. He was president of the Congress party from the year 2013 till his resignation in 2019 due to a heavy loss faced by the party in the Lok Sabha (the House of the People, the lower house of the Indian Parliament) elections.
Born in 1970, Rahul Gandhi has been an icon to the Indian masses. First, his name itself inspires a patriotic duty from the people even though he is not a relative of Mahatma Gandhi. Secondly, his lineage is one rife with political character. His great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, grandmother Indira Gandhi, and father Rajiv Gandhi were all prominent prime ministers of India, the latter two having been assassinated for the very role.
His Long March to ‘Unite India’
Rahul Gandhi represents the only leader in India that is standing in opposition to Modi and the BJP party. A gutsy move, no doubt, due to the immensely strong pull that BJP has all over the state. To counter BJP and reignite the popularity of the Congress party, Gandhi initiated the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ also known as the Unite India March.
Starting from Kanyakumari in mid-September of 2022, the march spanned over twelve states, over 3500 kilometers (about 2174.8 mi), and finally concluded in Srinagar, Kashmir at the end of January 2023. The main aim of the campaign was to shine a spotlight on how dangerous the BJP was becoming for India and its people.
The conservative right-wing party has been fanning the flames of Hindu-Muslim discord and encourages Islamophobia. Gandhi claimed that India was made for all – everyone no matter their religion, caste, creed, or language was to have shelter under the tricolor flag. Aside from the polarizing nature of Modi’s party, the march also focused on other issues plaguing the working class which included the ever-rising prices and inflation, unemployment rates, and minority oppression.
These sentiments of worker’s rights and communal harmony portrayed Rahul Gandhi as ‘A man of the people’ and garnered him a lot of support. The march crossed through the major states of India including but not limited to Bengaluru, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Hyderabad, and Delhi. It was not just a walk-through but rather included several meetings of various civil societies with Gandhi when he was in their state.
A participant in the march stated that the Unite India March was like the Salt March done by Gandhi in the 1930s. However, the main difference between both is that the Salt March was a united effort by India against the external threat of the colonizers, whereas the Unite India campaign is targeting a more internal matter. The BJP government called the campaign a desperate attempt to make gains in the upcoming elections by defaming the party. Modi and his party have long raged against the secular political views that Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party promotes.
Comments on Modi
Following the massive turnout of the march, BJP retaliated by suing Gandhi for defamation against Modi. The case was born from a speech made 4 years prior in 2019 in which Rahul Gandhi was addressing the nation and asked in a flippant remark, ‘why do all thieves have the surname, Modi?’. Gandhi’s legal team has stated that there was no malicious intent against any caste and that he was only referring to the corrupt practices of the Prime Minister and two other Indian businessmen who have been part of corruption scandals.
Gandhi appeared in court in Surat, Gujrat on 23rd March where he was granted bail and the verdict was delayed for 4 weeks. The Congress leader had his status as a parliamentary member revoked on Friday, 24th March, and has been sentenced to two years behind bars. The incarceration of the important leaders of the party will undoubtedly throw a wrench into their preparations for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Response to the Legal Ruling
There was an unprecedented outburst in reaction to the defamation accusations. Rahul Gandhi himself took to Twitter to defend himself and made sure to clarify that an attack on Modi was not an attack on India, a separation of the power-thirsty and religious fanatic of a politician from the secular democracy was necessary.
The ‘Aam Admi Party’ (AAP) also officially supported Congress, calling the defamation case a cowardly act. It is clear to all that a 4-year-old case being brought up now when the opposition to BJP is at its peak, is not a coincidence. The Indian National Congress is currently the biggest and most prominent opposition to the ‘Hindutva’ mindset being propagated by the RSS and BJP. This reality gave birth to a popular new narrative that non-BJP leaders, coalitions, and parties are being attacked and taken down in India – something which goes against the alleged democratic nature of the state.
Protests also erupted in various states of India, headed by members of Gandhi’s party themselves. The riots that took place in Wayanad reached extremes at which sculptures/representations of Modi were being set on fire and people had to be evacuated from the scene of the protests by law enforcement. Banners and posters with the slogan ‘The Truth will Prevail’ have been seen in such protests. Many journalists and reporters came forward on their social media handles to condemn the underhanded play by BJP, calling it vindictive and shameful. Rahul Gandhi seems undeterred in the face of his jail sentence and proclaimed that he was willing to pay the price for Justice and India.
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