India’s opposition leaders, Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, were briefly detained on Friday as they led thousands of supporters in the Indian capital to protest what they say is a bid by the government to crush democracy. The fiery show of strength by the Congress Party came as it reels under allegations of corruption in a helicopter deal struck when it was in power.
Save democracy rally
Addressing the rally, Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi accused the government of failing to alleviate the plight of poor farmers and millions of drought-affected people, trampling on civil rights and attempting to dislodge state governments in Congress-ruled states. “However much they try to frighten and malign us, we will not bow down,” vowed Gandhi.
Her son, Rahul Gandhi, also attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying he had not fulfilled pledges of creating millions of jobs for young people when he came to power in 2014.
Keeping government accountable
“Modi said he would give 20 million young people jobs every year, but let me tell you, last year it only created 130,000 so far,” said Gandhi.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dismissed the opposition show of strength, which had been labeled “Save Democracy Day” as a bid to save the Congress Party, which was crushed in the 2014 elections after its image was bruised by a series of corruption scandals.
Allegations of graft are once again hurting the party as the government vows to investigate massive kickbacks paid in a $750-million deal struck in 2010 when the Congress-led government was in power with an Anglo-Italian company to buy a dozen helicopters.
A court in Italy recently sentenced the former bosses of Finmeccanica and its AgustaWestland unit to jail terms for false accounting and corruption in the helicopter deal.
The contract was cancelled in 2014 by the Congress-led government, months before it lost power.
Soon after the opposition rally Friday, Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar vowed to find out where the trail of money led and punishing those guilty of accepting kickbacks.
“Everything was done to facilitate the contract to AgustaWestland, the contract was handed out at nearly twice the genuine, estimated cost, norms were relaxed for them, and when all this came to attention, no action was taken against the company”, Parrikar said amid noisy protests from Congress lawmakers.
The BJP-led government and the Congress Party have been on a path of confrontation in the last year, with the ruling party accusing the opposition of stalling reforms in parliament while the Congress Party says the government has done little to meet the promises it made when it swept to power in 2014 and is pushing a Hindu nationalist agenda.