War veterans and priests at venue as Congress gives focus to symbolism in poll-bound Uttarakhand

The public rally of Rahul Gandhi in Dehradun was replete with two elements that the BJP claims its own — armed forces-centric nationalism and Hinduism.
Rahul Gandhi felicitates a war veteran during the Congress event to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1971 victory against Pakistan, in Dehradun on Thursday. (Photo | PTI)
Rahul Gandhi felicitates a war veteran during the Congress event to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1971 victory against Pakistan, in Dehradun on Thursday. (Photo | PTI)

DEHRADUN:  The public rally of Rahul Gandhi in Dehradun was replete with two elements that the BJP claims its own — armed forces-centric nationalism and Hinduism.

Jay Singh Rawat, a political commentator based in Dehradun, said: “Uttarakhand is known as Devbhoomi (Land of Gods) and Sainya Bhoomi (Land of Warriors). The Congress has tried level best to send the message across.” 

The “messaging” included priests performing rituals on the stage and veterans from the 1971 war sharing the venue with Congress leaders.

Analyst Yogesh Kumar said the Congress stands a fair chance in the state due to brimming anti-incumbency, poor management of Covid-19 and abrupt replacement of chief ministers.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday accused the BJP government of ignoring the role of then prime minister Indira Gandhi in the 1971 War as India celebrates the 50th anniversary of the victory, which he said was achieved as the country was united then.

Referring to his grandmother and the former PM, he said she took "32 bullets for the country" but her name was not even mentioned at a government event in New Delhi on the anniversary of the victory over Pakistan.

"However, it does not make any difference because I know what she did for the country by giving her blood," the Congress leader said launching his party's campaign for the Uttarakhand Assembly polls during a rally at Parade Ground here.

He said the credit for the 1971 War victory, which came in just 13 days, does not go exclusively go to the Army, Navy or the political leadership of the day, it goes to the "united fight put up by Indians regardless of their cast or religion".

Lakhs of families donated gold to the government of the day to strengthen the fight against Pakistan, he said.

"The country spoke in one voice and the America's Seventh Fleet was forced to return. Usually, full scale wars take years to conclude. But India won the 1971 War in 13 days because it spoke in one voice," he said.

The Congress leader said helicopters and fighter aircrafts do not strengthen a country.

"A country becomes strong when its people are strong," he said.

He further said sacrifice defines his relationship with the state from where thousands of people die fighting on the borders for the country.

"The way thousands of families in Uttarakhand lose their kin battling for the country's honour, my family too has made sacrifices. This is my relationship with Uttarakhand," he said.

The Congress leader said while travelling to Dehradun, he was thinking what kind of relationship he has with Uttarakhand.

"I thought of the few years I spent here as a student of the Doon School, during which I got a lot of your love.

I was also reminded of two dates--October 31--when my grandmother became a martyr and--May 21--when my father was assassinated.

And the word that struck me was sacrifice," he added.

Rahul Gandhi said he was at school when he was told that his grandmother received 32 bullet wounds.

"Such calls are received by thousands of families in Uttarakhand when their kin make the supreme sacrifice to safeguard the country," he said.

But families that have made no sacrifice for the nation cannot feel this, he said.

They cannot feel what it means to lose a father or an uncle, the Congress leader said.

He also attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, alleging that demonetisation and the GST were the "tools of capitalists".

"Narendra Modi is their implementor," he said targeting the PM.

"Take it from me, the youth in this country will not get jobs until the BJP government in New Delhi goes," the leader said.

Rahul Gandhi claimed that measures like the noteban and the GST destroyed small and medium businessmen.

On rising inflation, he said petrol and diesel prices had fallen in the international market but went up in an unprecedented way in the country due to highest tax on fuel.

He accused the PM of pulling out Rs 10 lakh crore from people's pockets and transferring them straight to the pockets of "handpicked billionaire capitalists who do his marketing".

He said the Centre's farm laws were aimed at "finishing farmers and helping capitalists".

The former Congress president also criticised the Centre for not accepting that 700 farmers died during the course of the agitation against the laws.

"The prime minister has apologised to farmers for the agriculture laws which were withdrawn after a sustained agitation by farmers but does not acknowledge their deaths and is refusing to pay compensations," he said.

Rahul said if the Congress is voted to power, it will protect interests of farmers and unemployed youth.

Heroes of the 1971 War, Army veterans and families who lost their kin fighting for the country were offered a memento and a shawl as a gesture of honour by the Congress leader, who shared the dais with them at the rally, the first by him ahead of the next year's Assembly elections in the state.

The Congress rally at Parade Ground came days after PM Modi held a rally at the venue.

Taking a jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the development of the area around the Kedarnath temple after the 2013 disaster, former Uttarakhand CM Harish Rawat said today people are mediating in "caves built by us".

PM Modi had visited the shrine during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and meditated there.

the PM had inaugurated a rebuilt samadhi of Adi Shankaracharya in Kedarnath and laid the foundation stone of reconstruction projects worth over Rs 400 crore there last month.

Addressing a rally held to launch the Congress Party's campaign for the Assembly polls at Parade Ground here, the former chief minister praised Rahul Gandhi, saying he was the only national leader to visit Uttarakhand after the 2013 disaster.

"You were the only national leader who came to Uttarakhand after the Kedarnath tragedy to wipe our tears. You went on foot to Kedarnath," Rawat said.

"When I was made the chief minister in 2014, you told me the only responsibility being assigned to me was the reconstruction of the affected areas. And today people are meditating in the caves built by us at Kedarnath," Rawat said without taking anyone's name.

He also credited Gandhi with the success of the farmers' agitation against the three farm laws.

Rawat credited his party with the withdrawal of the Devasthanam Board Act in Uttarakhand, saying it was against the autonomy of temples.

"If voted to power, we would create an Uttarakhand, free from unemployment, inflation and migration. We would also script a new chapter in women empowerment," Rawat said.

Meanwhile, the BJP on Thursday accused the Congress of using the photograph of Gen Bipin Rawat who was killed in a recent helicopter crash for purely political reasons ahead of elections, and asked it to explain why one of its leaders had once described the country's first Chief of Defence Staff as a "roadside hooligan".

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who launched his party's campaign for the Uttarakhand assembly polls with a rally at the Parade Ground here on Thursday, began his address after offering flowers at a framed picture of Gen Rawat on the dais and observing a two-minute silence to pay tribute to him.

Addressing a press conference later, Uttarakhand BJP president Madan Kaushik said, "By putting up a cut-out of Gen Rawat at its rally here Congress is now talking about honouring armed forces personnel. One of the party's senior leaders, Sandeep Dikshit, had called Gen Rawat a roadside hooligan. Is that how the armed forces are honoured?" Dikshit had later apologised for his remarks.

Questioning the sincerity of the "sudden surge of feelings" on part of the Congress in the election season, Kaushik said the entire country mourning the loss of Gen Rawat, his wife and other armed forces personnel in the tragic helicopter crash has seen Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra dancing to the beats of "dhols and nagadas" at a party programme in Goa.

"Congress had asked for proof of the surgical strike and the Balakot air strike, but is now speaking of honouring the armed forces," Kaushik said.

Criticising the Congress, BJP national spokesperson Shehzad Poonawala tweeted, "Shameless Congress Party puts pics of Rahul Gandhi along with martyrs on Shraddhanjali wall! Even here they cannot honour soldiers without parivar bhakti? Disrespecting martyrs. Congress has DNA of disrespecting armed forces. They had called Bipin Rawat ji 'Sadak Ka Gunda'."

Assembly polls in Uttarakhand are due early next year.

(With PTI Inputs)

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