NDA ministers will attend rallies across the country on Sunday to highlight alleged excesses during the Emergency clamped by Indira Gandhi in 1975, stepping up efforts to run down Congress’ plans to celebrate the former Prime Minister’s birth centenary next year.
Government sources said around 50 out of 63 ministers have been assigned different towns and cities in separate states where they will hold meetings and rallies on the theme ‘Save Democracy’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued directions to this effect at a Cabinet meeting this week.
The Modi government often cites the 21-month period as one of the lowest points in Congress rule and has dubbed it as the “biggest blow” to democracy when fundamental rights were suspended, opposition leaders jailed and freedom of media curbed between June 25, 1975 and March 1977..
Among the Cabinet ministers, home minister Rajnath Singh will be in Ranchi, defence minister Manohar Parikkar in Cuttack, parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu in Bengaluru and railway minister Suresh Prabhu in Chandigarh.
Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi will not take part in the programme, coordinated by Naidu.
Sources said that BJP president Amit Shah will attend a function in Delhi.
The government campaign is an apparent counter to the Congress’ ‘Save Democracy’ march last month to protest the government’s alleged attempt to muzzle the opposition.
It also comes in the backdrop of a partisan debate on what the Congress dubbed the BJP government’s attempt to “appropriate” its icons including Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri.
On Thursday, the Congress formed two committees to plan and implement the birth centenary celebrations of Gandhi, the only woman Prime Minister of India till date.
A senior BJP leader said the campaign was aimed at “connecting with the people and telling them about the events leading to the imposition of Emergency on June 25 and what followed in its aftermath”.
“A whole generation has come up since then, who has taken democracy for given. People ought to be told that the democracy they are enjoying is hard-earned and they need to zealously guard it.”
Labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya, who will attend a meeting at Vijayawada, told HT that he along with thousands of others were jailed under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act during the Emergency.
“It was the blackest chapter in our democracy,” he said.
However, this is not the first time the NDA government is organising an event to mark Emergency.
During a commemorative function to mark the 113th birth anniversary of Jayaprakash Narayan in October, Narendra Modi had felicitated several people jailed during the Emergency.
“The kind of crisis that hit the country during that period had tempered the Indian democracy which came out stronger...Emergency should be remembered not to brood over what had happened then, but to strenghten our resolve to fortify the democratic values and framework in our country,” Modi had said.
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