India’s main opposition party launches nationwide ‘unity’ march
By David Asta Alares
New Delhi, Sep 7 (EFE).- Rahul Gandhi, the scion of India’s Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty and leader of the main opposition party Indian National Congress, on Wednesday launched a 3,500-kms long ‘unity’ march, echoing the iconic protests led by Mahatma Gandhi during the independence movement.
As it holds internal elections to name its new leader, the historic Congress party has been witnessing one of its lowest points in history after a series of electoral losses to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which it accuses of undermining India’s democratic values.
“I lost my father to the politics of hate and division. I will not lose my beloved country to it too. Love will conquer hate. Hope will defeat fear. Together, we will overcome,” Rahul Gandhi said at a rally in the southern city of Sriperumbudur, where his father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by Sri Lankan Tamil rebels in 1991.
Accompanied by leaders and supporters, Rahul will lead the march that will kick off from India’s southernmost end, Kanyakumari, and end in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, covering over 3,500 kms on foot in 150 days.
“We have realized the deterioration of democratic values and the erosion of institutions, inflation, unemployment. (…) Principally due to the atmosphere of fear and hatred that has been created and sponsored by the ruling party in India,” All India Congress Committee secretary Ashish Dua told EFE, hailing the march as unprecedented in independent India.
The march on foot or “padyatra,” harks back to a long tradition in the country, drawing obvious parallels with the iconic marches by Mahatma Gandhi during the independence movement, including the 1930 “salt march,” in which he led thousands of people in the western state of Gujarat to break a law that banned people from making their own salt and avoiding unjust British taxes.
The BJP had also organized massive rallies across Indian states in early 1990s demanding the construction of a Hindu temple in the place of a historic mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya, claiming it to be the birthplace of Lord Ram.
The campaign culminated in the mosque being demolished by a mob of Hindu fundamentalists and triggered inter-religious violence in which around 2,000 people killed, most of the from the minority Muslim community.
The Congress led India’s independence struggle 75 years ago and ruled the country for decades with several prime ministers coming from its ranks, including Rahul Gandhi’s father, grandmother and great-grandfather.
In recent years, the party has witnessed a drastic decline in its fortunes and is preparing to elect a new president at a time when several veteran leaders have abandoned it.
Two weeks ago, veteran leader Ghulam Nabi Azad resigned from the party after five decades of association and blamed Rahul Gandhi’s leadership for the party’s misfortunes.
Dua insisted that the party’s internal polls were a separate matter and not related to the march.
The ruling BJP took potshots at the Congress over the march.
“India is intact, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari (…). We are one nation, we are intact,” BJP leader and chief minister of the northeastern state of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, told reporters.
“It doesn’t make any sense to do “Unite India” march in Indian territory. You try and include Pakistan and Bangladesh,” Sarma said in jest, referring to the nationalist concept of a “united” Indian subcontinent that has the same borders as pre-partition British India. EFE