Under-fire Rahul Skips Savarkar Mention at Maha Rally, Targets BJP for ‘Spreading Fear, Hatred’

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Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of spreading fear, hatred and violence and said the country can not progress under these circumstances as he asked the government to be compassionate in handling farmers’ problems to prevent suicides.

The country will never benefit from hatred and those who experience violence in personal life are fearless and will never hurt others or spread ill-will in the society, said Rahul Gandhi, whose Bharat Jodo Yatra has completed 12 days in Maharashtra.

Addressing a rally organised as part of the yatra at Shegaon in Buldhana district after visiting Sant Gajanan Maharaj Temple, Rahul Gandhi, however, avoided any mention of freedom fighter V D Savarkar during his speech.

The Congress MP, during a press conference at Wadegaon in Akola district on Thursday, had alleged Savarkar had helped the British and written a mercy petition to them out of fear. Earlier, the Congress leader had said the Hindutva ideologue was a mascot of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), an ally of the Congress, had strongly disapproved of Rahul Gandhi’s comments on Savarkar, while rivals BJP and Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde had warned against insulting the freedom fighter. Remarks on Savarkar had also triggered statewide protests.

Describing Maharashtra as the land that has produced national icons, the former Congress president said Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Dr B R Ambedkar, Mahatma Phule, Savitribai Phule and Shahu Maharaj, all of whom with deep roots in the state, taught unity and brotherhood, and the Bharat Jodo Yatra is taking forward their ideals.

Rahul Gandhi accused the BJP of spreading fear, hatred and violence and cautioned the country will never progress in an environment filled with animosity.

“Farmers are in fear because of lack of minimum support price for agriculture produce and crop insurance payment, while youths fear lack of employment opportunities. The BJP is turning this fear into hatred and violence,” he alleged.

He said farmers in Maharashtra are committing suicide due to low price of their produce and unavailability of adequate insurance protection when their crops suffer damage in unseasonal rains or floods.

“Farmers have only one thing to ask – why their loan of Rs 50,000 or Rs one lakh is being not waived, while loans of wealthy people are being written off,” the Congress leader said.

He said when the Congress-led UPA was in power at the Centre, the government had given a financial package to cultivators of Vidarbha, a region of Maharashtra prone to farmer suicides.

“If you listen to people’s problems with love and affection, the fear doesn’t remain. If a chief minister and the Prime Minister listen to farmers’ woes with compassion and love, no farmer will commit suicide,” Rahul Gandhi maintained.

The Congress MP mentioned about his meeting with a soldier earlier in the day who lost both his legs and one arm and said the trooper told him he was grievously injured and was in hospital for months.

“When I asked if he harboured hate, he replied ‘he doesn’t hate anyone’. He has decided this is the new life he has got and he will live courageously. Those who have experienced violence and got hurt don’t have fear in their heart and do not hate anyone,” said the Lok Sabha member from Kerala.

Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi who shared the dais with the Congress leader, said those who criticise the yatra and question its aim of uniting the country, are actually waiting for its division.

NCP leaders Rajesh Tope, Rajendra Shingne, Fauzia Khan, Arun Gujarati and Eknath Khadse attended the rally along with local leaders of the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray).

Earlier in the day, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh defended Rahul Gandhi on the Savarkar issue and maintained he did not target the Hindutva ideologue, but only highlighted a “historical fact’.

Ramesh said although the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction does not support Rahul Gandhi’s views on Savarkar, it will not impact the opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance.

Before sharing the stage with the Congress MP, Mahatma Gandhi’s great grandson Tushar Gandhi joined him in the Bharat Jodo Yatra at Shegaon on Friday morning.

The Congress hailed the participation of Tushar Gandhi, an author and activist, in the cross-country march as “historic”.

“The two walking together is a message to the rulers that they can put democracy in threat but will not be allowed to finish it off,” the party said in a statement.

Apart from Tushar Gandhi, senior Congress leaders Mukul Wasnik, Deepender Hooda, Milind Deora, Manikrao Thakre, Mumbai Congress president Bhai Jagtap and party’s state unit chief Nana Patole walked with Rahul Gandhi.

Kargil war hero Nayak Deepchand and Bollywood actor Mona Ambegaonkar also joined the Congress’s foot-march.

Deepchand, a native of Hissar in Haryana, lost a hand and both legs at Tololing during the 1999 Kargil War.

The 3,570-km-long Bharat Jodo Yatra, which started from Tamil Nadu on September 7, is in its last leg in Maharashtra and will enter Madhya Pradesh on November 20.

Meanwhile, several BJP workers barged into the Congress’s Pune city headquarters on Friday and attempted to blacken the photographs of Rahul Gandhi to protest against his remarks on Savarkar, police said.

The protesters shouted slogans against Rahul Gandhi and stuck posters with the message “Mafiveer (mercy seeker) Jawaharlal Nehru” on the walls of the Congress Bhavan, an official from Shivaji Nagar police said.

“We detained 10 to 15 workers from the premises of the Congress Bhavan,” inspector Arvind Mane said.

One of the members of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the BJP’s youth wing, said they came to the Congress Bhavan to condemn Rahul Gandhi’s remarks against the freedom fighter.

Workers of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) were detained at Chikhali in Buldhana district when they were going to the site of Rahul Gandhi’s rally in Shegaon.

The Raj Thackeray-led party has denounced Rahul Gandhi over his remarks against Savarkar.

A police officer said MNS workers led by their leader Avinash Jadhav were detained at Chikhali when they were heading towards Shegaon. Some of them carrying black flags with them.

Simultaneously, MNS office-bearars in Nagpur, Amravati, Akola and Wardha received preventive orders from police stations concerned.

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