Mumbai: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday said that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) keeps attacking the Constitution everyday as it does not want to accept that the Dalits, tribals and the poor should get rights, and hit out at Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar for “working” for the British.
Gandhi, participating in the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ which entered its 69th day and reached Washim district in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra from Hingoli on Tuesday, said it is only the Congress that can protect the Constitution, give education to tribals and safeguard their land and rights.
The Lok Sabha MP from Kerala addressed two rallies during the day and stepped up his attack on the BJP over a range of issues — from the Constitution, to demonetisation, to Goods and Service Tax (GST) to farm loans.
The first public meeting, addressed by him in the afternoon, was organised on the occasion of tribal freedom fighter Birsa Munda’s birth anniversary, which is also celebrated as the Janjatiya Gaurav Divas or Tribal Pride Day. The rally was attended by tribal community members.
At the meeting, Gandhi sought to draw a parallel between Birsa Munda and Savarkar, and said the tribal icon stood steadfast for his ideals.
“He (Munda) did not step even an inch back. He was killed and martyred. It is your (tribals) symbol and shows you the path. The BJP-RSS symbol is Savarkar. He was jailed in Andaman for two-three years. He started writing mercy petitions,” he said.
Gandhi said Savarkar wrote a book on himself with a different name and highlighted how brave he was.
“He used to take pensions from the British, work for them, and work against the Congress,” he said.
The Lok Sabha MP said tribals are the “original owners of the country” and their rights come first before anyone.
Gandhi said the ideals of Birsa Munda were being attacked from all sides by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP.
“The BJP attacks the Constitution everyday because they don’t want to accept that Dalits, adivasis and the poor should get rights,” the Congress leader said.
He said while the Congress uses the word ‘adivasis’ for tribals, the BJP-RSS combine addresses them as ‘vanvasis’ (forest dwellers).
“They (the BJP-RSS) say you are not adivasis and you did not reside here before everyone. They have changed the name (vanvasi), but it is not a small development. It is serious. They are attacking what Birsa Munda fought for,” he said.
Gandhi said forests are shrinking and will disappear in 20 to 30 years.
“So they (the BJP) are saying that you should not get any rights. When forests disappear, there will be no rights to vanvasis. This is what they mean,” he said.
Gandhi said the Congress firmly believes adivasis are the original owners of the country.
“So, the country (land) was taken from you, so when it was taken from you then you need to get back something in return. So you have to get your rights, healthcare, education, and a share of the country’s wealth. So how are adivasis, minorities, Dalits, backward class protected? It is through the Constitution,” he said.
The parliamentarian noted it was Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar who framed the Constitution, and the Congress also contributed in the exercise.
BJP leaders at that time said there was no need for any Constitution, Gandhi said.
Attacking the saffron outfit further, Gandhi alleged it is shutting down public sector companies and privatising education and healthcare.
“What will happen if all government schools are shut? (Underprivileged) people will remain illiterate and it is the BJP who will benefit from this. They are shutting all avenues. The doors to employment, education and healthcare are getting shut,” said the Congress leader.
He pointed out that it was the Congress that brought in key legislations like the Forest Rights Act, but the ruling BJP is out to “snatch” the rights of tribals.
“It is only the Congress which can protect the Constitution, (give) education to tribals, their land and their rights. Only the Congress can give a fight (to its political opponents). The Congress fights, but it should fight more strongly,” Gandhi said.
Speaking at another rally in the evening, the Congress leader targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the implementation of GST and the 2016 note-ban, saying the two measures adversely affected farmers, small and medium industries, and small shopkeepers who are the backbone of the economy.
He said the note-ban and “wrong” implementation of the GST were used as “weapons” to “kill” small shopkeepers, traders and farmers.
“Narendra Modi ji said (the menace of) black money will end (after note-ban). But what happened – lakhs of small businesses and crores of people were left unemployed. He (the PM) wanted to help his two-three friends. Airport, port, road, telecom, infrastructure business have been given to two-three people,” Gandhi said without naming anyone.
He also attacked the Centre over the issue of unemployment.
“Narendra Modi ji used to say he would give employment to 2 crore people, but he rendered crores of people unemployed due to GST and note-ban. During the coronavirus pandemic they destroyed labourers and made them walk (after the lockdown) and instilled fear in them,” said the Congress leader.
He asked why loans of farmers can’t be waived if the same can be done for billionaires.
“When a billionaire is unable to pay back the money (loan), the bureaucrats call it NPAs (non-performing assets), but when farmers take loans of Rs 50,000-Rs 1,00,000 and fail to repay them, they call them defaulters and impound their land and house,” Gandhi said.