Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel says the Congress will go to the people's court over disqualification of former party president Rahul Gandhi from the Lok Sabha following his conviction in the criminal defamation case. He counters the BJP's accusation that Gandhi insulted the Other Backward Classes, saying that the bill passed by the Chhattisgarh Vidhan Sabha to increase the OBC quota in education and jobs is yet to be cleared because of pressure from the BJP. Excerpts from an interview:
How much of a setback for the Congress is the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi from the Lok Sabha?
If you look at the speed with which decisions were taken in the matter, starting from the judgment of the district court in Surat to the notification issued by the Lok Sabha secretariat, it becomes evident that it is not normal. This is clearly an attempt to suppress the voice of the opposition. But they cannot stop us.
What is the Congress's strategy to deal with the developments?
An attempt has been made to silence us, suppress our voice. You can remove us from the Lok Sabha and silence us in the Rajya Sabha. But you cannot stop us from going to the people. We will go to the people's court. We will convey to the people that we are not afraid of thieves, no matter their surname. We are soldiers of the Congress and we will intensify our fight under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi.
The BJP says the disqualification is the result of a judicial process.
The entire government is working to stop one person, to scare that one person who says ‘Daro Mat [do not be afraid]’. If you look at the entire sequence of events, it becomes clear that all this is being done only to stop him. It is all a diversion from the questions that have been asked by Rahul Gandhi with regard to the Adani issue. Those in the seat of power will have to respond to the questions raised by him.
All the dictators in the world are afraid that people will stop fearing them and they try to silence their opponents by scaring and threatening them. It is the year of the Amrit Mahotsav of Independence. But out democracy is in peril because of the dictatorial ways of the government. The Gujarat model is being implemented in the whole country. The RSS always wanted to have dictatorship in the country. And before it celebrates its centenary, it is trying to implement dictatorship through the BJP.
We are not afraid. We will not be afraid. We were not defeated and we will not be defeated. The main message of the Bharat Jodo Yatra was ‘Daro mat’. We have fought against the British. We are followers of Mahatma Gandhi and we are not afraid of the BJP or the Modi government.
The BJP says Rahul Gandhi has insulted the Other Backward Classes.
Which backward caste does Lalit Modi belong to? Which backward caste does Nirav Modi belong to? They both belong to the upper castes. They both belong to the Vaishya community. Then, which backward caste was insulted by the comment?
But the BJP seems intent on making the OBC line an important part of its campaign ahead of elections.
It is the Bharatiya Janata Party that is actually insulting the OBCs. I want to ask the BJP to stop shedding crocodile tears for the OBCs. The Chhattisgarh Vidhan Sabha had on December 2, 2022, unanimously passed a bill for reservation for the OBCs. That bill has still not been cleared and has still not become law because of the pressure put by the BJP. The bill is for reservation for the OBCs in education and jobs, and lakhs of youth are suffering because of the delay in the bill getting cleared. Why is the BJP government at the Centre not going ahead with caste-based census? So it is the BJP that is actually harming the cause of the OBCs.
The anti-OBC mindset is also evident in the manner in which the BJP government has targeted leaders belonging to the backward classes, be it Akhilesh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Tejashwi Yadav, or M.K. Stalin.