Hordes of Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, all wearing black, were on Friday detained as they protested against inflation and Goods and Services Tax (GST) in Delhi and across the country. They were released after about six hours.
The police dragged Priyanka away from barricades erected near the Congress office at 24 Akbar Road in Delhi and shoved her into a van as she said: “The government thinks it can silence us. It thinks that by showing its force, it can make us quietly sit in buses… But we have a purpose,” she said.
She told reporters that high prices were pushing people into desperation, and the Narendra Modi government “had distributed largesse to all his friends”. She could be seen arguing with the police who urged her to end the protest and go home as no permission had been given for the demonstration. However, she hunkered down on the road and refused to move.
Elsewhere in the country, the police used water cannons to disperse protests. In Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana, Congress members were drenched with water as they marched towards Raj Bhavans. In Mumbai, Congress leaders were detained at the Azad Maidan police station.
Congress MPs created a ruckus in both Houses of Parliament over the alleged misuse of probe agencies and the government “ignoring people’s issues”. Proceedings were adjourned in both Houses. Clad in black, Congress president Sonia Gandhi led party MPs out of Parliament, as Rahul Gandhi and other MPs shouted slogans. As the MPs proceeded towards Rashtrapati Bhavan, they were bundled into buses. Gandhi and some of his colleagues were taken to the Kingsway Camp police station and released later.
Before Parliament started, Rahul held a press conference at 9.30 am to attack the Modi government. “What India has built brick by brick, starting almost a century ago, is being destroyed in front of your eyes. Anybody who stands up against this idea of onset of dictatorship is viciously attacked, jailed, arrested and beaten up,” he said. “Prices of everything are going up. But the Finance Minister seems unable to see this. Maybe she’s been told: ‘just keep talking’. Go to any village, town: and they’ll tell you high prices is the central livelihood issue. The reality is one thing, and the perception is another. The government is trying to create a perception that everything is ok.”
Rahul said institutions were being undermined. “The opposition fights in a democracy on the basis of having institutions back it. The judicial structure, electoral structure, media…the opposition stands on the basis of these institutions. All of them have been captured by the government. No institution in India is independent.”
“There is financial monopoly and institutional monopoly, that is why the opposition is not effective,” he said. On BJP’s claim that they have been winning elections, he said, “Hitler also used to win elections. He had the entire institutional structure with him. Give me the power on the institutions and I will show you how elections are won.”
Asked about the Enforcement Directorate questioning Sonia and him in the National Herald case, Rahul said, “Question all you want, there is absolutely nothing there, everybody knows it”. “My job is to resist the idea of the RSS and the more I do it, the more I will be attacked. I am happy, attack me,” he said. Gandhi asserted that the government can “continue scaring” them, it will not make any difference.
A few hours later, in the Rajya Sabha, Chairman Venkaiah Naidu clarified that members of Parliament do not enjoy immunity from arrest in criminal cases when the House is in session and they cannot avoid summons issued by law enforcement agencies. Rajya Sabha proceedings were adjourned for almost half an hour till 11.30 am on Friday as Congress members created an uproar alleging misuse of probe agencies.
More than 10 Congress members trooped into the Well of the House, protesting against the alleged misuse of central probe agencies. They charged Kharge was “insulted” as he was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate on Thursday during the working hours of Parliament, prompting Naidu to clarify about MPs’ privileges.
A member of Parliament cannot be arrested in a civil case 40 days before the commencement of the session or committee meeting and 40 days thereafter, Naidu said, adding that this privilege is already incorporated under Section 135A of the Civil Procedure Court. “However, in criminal matters members of Parliament are not on a different footing than a common citizen. That means members of Parliament do not enjoy any immunity from being arrested in a criminal case during the session or otherwise,” he clarified.
Over the weekend, the Congress party will hold meetings to decide its plans. Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who is in Delhi, is expected to call on Sonia Gandhi during this period.