Raising the pitch against the Bharatiya Janata Party over Rahul Gandhi's disqualification from Lok Sabha, Congress leaders and workers held protests across the country on Sunday, with party president Mallikarjun Kharge and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra accusing the government of "trying to silence" a "martyr's son" for raising the voice of people.
Countering the BJP's charge that Rahul Gandhi insulted OBCs with his remark for which he has been convicted in a criminal defamation case, Priyanka Gandhi asked how a leader whose family has "given its blood to nurture democracy" and who has walked thousands of kilometres from Kanyakumari to Kashmir with a message of unity could insult the country or a certain community.
"We have remained silent but not anymore," she said alleging that the prime minister and other BJP leaders have repeatedly insulted her family members but no cases were filed against them.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, however, slammed the Congress and asked if it was agitating against the country's Constitution or the law under which Rahul Gandhi was convicted or to justify his remarks against the entire backward community of the country.
With several other parties condemning the action against Rahul Gandhi, top Congress leaders Ashok Gehlot and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the issue had brought the Opposition together and this unity would grow as days go by.
Kharge, who led the "Sankalp Satyagraha" protest outside Delhi's Raj Ghat after the police refused permission to hold it at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial, asked why the BJP was feeling hurt if fugitives Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi were being criticised.
"They talk of OBC now, is Lalit Modi OBC, is Nirav Modi OBC, is Mehul Choksi OBC, they ran away with people's money. If they are fugitives why are you pained if they are criticised."
"You (BJP) punish the person who works to save the country and send those abroad who loot the country," Kharge said.
Staunchly defending the former Congress president, Priyanka Gandhi said no cases were registered when her brother was called Mir Jafer.
Asking if a martyred prime minister's son can insult the country, Priyanka Gandhi said, "This is an insult to that prime minister who gave his life."
She said her family gave its blood to the nation and the Congress is ready to do anything to protect democracy and is not scared.
"You have called a martyr's son anti-national, Mir Jafar, insulted his mother in Parliament. The prime minister in Parliament asks why this family does not use the 'Nehru' surname," she said.
"You insult the entire family and the tradition of Kashmiri Pandits. But there is no case against you. You don't get a case or a two-year term and no one disqualifies you. Why?" she asked.
She hit out at the BJP over the allegation of dynastic politics.
"How much will you insult one person?" Priyanka Gandhi said and asked if Lord Ram, who was sent into exile, was a parivaarwadi.
“They accuse us of dynasticism. Who was Lord Ram? He was exiled and he fulfilled his responsibilities towards his family and motherland. Was Lord Ram parivaarwadi? Were Pandavas parivaarwadi because they fought to uphold the values of their family. Should we be ashamed that our family members sacrificed their lives for this country?” the Congress leader said.
Priyanka Gandhi said till today, they have been insulting "our family and we remained silent but not anymore".
"Time has come and we are not the ones who will remain silent anymore," she told the outside Rajghat.
Targeting the prime minister, she said, Rahul Gandhi was being attacked for asking questions about industrialist Gautam Adani, who she alleged was being protected by the entire ruling establishment.
"Take me to jail but the truth is this country's prime minister is a coward. He is hiding behind his power and (he) is arrogant. But this country's tradition is that people reply to an arrogant king," she said.
Priyanka Gandhi also urged the media to understand their responsibility as "democracy is in danger".
"If the one who questions is barred from contesting elections for eight years, it is not right for the country or its democracy. Time has come -- daro mat (don't be afraid)'.
"Face them and unite and ensure the unity of the country and take it forward," she asserted amid cheers from the Congress rank and file.
In the national capital, the Congress put up a stage outside Mahatma Gandhi's memorial for its day-long protest programme with a hoarding having Mahatma Gandhi's image and Satyamev Jayate (truth alone wins) written on it, while in Gujarat several party functionaries were detained for holding the stir.
Congress workers in many states and union territories like Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat took part in the protests.
Tamil Nadu Congress chief K S Alagiri, who led the protest in Cuddalore, said there would be more protests including rail roko and street-corner meetings to make it a people's movement.
Kharge thanked all opposition parties for standing with Rahul Gandhi and the Congress to save democracy.
Gehlot slammed the BJP and said his party has done a lot for backward classes which include making an OBC leader like him CM thrice.
Alleging that in 2017, when the BJP was losing the Gujarat elections, Modi played the OBC card, he said the BJP again wants to run a campaign to mislead OBCs.
"You are protecting fugitives such as Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi, and then saying Rahul Gandhi insulted OBCs," he said.
"I have been made CM for the third time by Sonia ji, Rahul ji. I am an OBC. There is only one member of the OBC Mali community (in the assembly) and that is me," he said.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel also comes from the OBC community, he pointed out.
Meanwhile, the BJP hit out at the Congress over its 'Sankalp Satyagraha', alleging that it was agitating against the country's Constitution and the court's verdict against Rahul Gandhi to justify his remarks against the entire backward community of the country.
Addressing a press conference, BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi also dubbed the Congress agitation as an insult to Mahatma Gandhi, saying while the Father of the Nation had organised Satyagraha for social causes, the Congress was holding so-called Satyagraha for personal reasons.
The agitation has nothing to do with fighting for truth, he added.
"Satyagraha for what?... Is it to justify the way you insulted the entire backward community of the country, or against the court which sentenced you, or against the provision under which you have to be disqualified, he said, asking Congress to clarify.
Taking a jibe at the Congress, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said those who weaken democracy cannot observe Satyagraha.
Gandhi was disqualified from the Lok Sabha on Friday, a day after a court in Gujarat's Surat convicted him in a 2019 defamation case. The disqualification will prevent Gandhi (52), a four-time MP, from contesting elections for eight years unless a higher court stays the conviction.
In Gujarat, the police detained state Congress chief Jagdish Tahor, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Amit Chavda and senior leader Bharatsinh Solanki along with party workers when they arrived at Lal Darwaza in Ahmedabad to protest.
In Srinagar, scores of party activists led by former JKPCC president Ghulam Ahmad Mir protested at the party's headquarters at M A Road.
The Punjab and Haryana units of Congress also observed the Satyagraha. In Congress-ruled Rajasthan, the party's state unit chief Govind Singh Dotasra, Food and Civil Supplies Minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas and several other leaders took part in the protest.
In Hyderabad, Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee president A Revanth Reddy, party MPs from the state, AICC incharge of party affairs in Telangana Manikrao Thakre and several leaders took part in the dharna at Gandhi Bhavan.
The Puducherry Pradesh Congress Committee will hold dawn to dusk fast in Puducherry on Monday, former chief minister and senior Congress leader V Narayanasamy said at a rally in the Union Territory.
"The prime minister tried to silence the Opposition but our protests would continue unabated," he said.
Madhya Pradesh Youth Congress president Vikrant Bhuria was on Sunday arrested for stopping a train during a protest at Kamlapati railway station in Bhopal on Friday, a police official said.
Bhuria, who is the son of MLA and former Union minister Kantilal Bhuria, was taken away while a crowd of Congress supporters shouted slogans in his support.
In Ranchi, Congress leaders including Jharkhand ministers—Rameshwar Oraon and Banna Gupta— assembled at Bapu Vatika at Morabadi ground.
Scores of party activists led by former JKPCC president Ghulam Ahmad Mir held the ‘Sankalp Satyagraha' at the party headquarters at M A Road in Srinagar.