New Delhi [India]: Congress president Sonia Gandhi and leaders of 18 other political parties on Friday launched a strong attack on the Narendra Modi government accusing it of “destruction of economy” and demanded Supreme Court-monitored judicial probe into the use of Pegasus Spyware, speeding up of COVID-19 vaccination, free cash transfers of Rs.7,500 per month to all families outside the income tax bracket, repeal of three farm laws and compulsory guarantee of MSP to farmers.
In a joint statement after meeting convened by Sonia Gandhi, the leaders said they will jointly organize protest actions all over the country from September 20 to 30. The leaders condemned the manner in which the Central government and the ruling party disrupted the monsoon session of Parliament and said unprecedented scenes were witnessed “where MPs, including women MPs, were injured by Marshalls deployed to disrupt Opposition protests”.
The leaders demanded “withdraw of unprecedented hikes in central excise duties on petrol and diesel, “reversal of the unbridled privatisation of the public sector”.
Seeking release all political prisoners in Jammu and Kashmir, the leaders sought restoration of full statehood including Jammu and Kashmir cadre of central services and free and fair election at the earliest.
They demanded the release of all political prisoners, including those under draconian UAPA in the Bhima Koregaon case and anti-CAA protests.
The leaders also sought a probe into Rafale deal, asking why the old deal made during the UPA government was cancelled.
Noting that the government will not be able to achieve full vaccination against COVID-19 by the end of the year, the opposition leaders asked the government to “augment all vaccine production capabilities in India, procure vaccines globally and speed up the free universal mass vaccination drive immediately”.
The said adequate compensation should be provided for those who lost their lives due to COVID-19 and the public health care system should be expanded vastly.
“Central Government must implement free cash transfers of Rs 7,500 per month to all families outside the income tax bracket. Distribute free food kits containing all essential commodities of daily consumption to all the needy. Withdraw unprecedented hikes in central excise duties on petrol and diesel, reduce prices of cooking gas and essential commodities, particularly cooking oil and control galloping inflation,” the statement said.
They called for repeal of the labour codes which dilute the rights of the labour and the working class.
” Repeal the three anti-agriculture Laws and compulsorily guarantee MSP to farmers. Stop and reverse the unbridled privatisation of the public sector, repeal the labour codes which dilute the rights of the labour and the working class and restore the rights of the working people to protest and for wage bargaining,” the statement said.
The leaders called for the implementation of monetary stimulus packages for the revival of MSMEs, not the provision of loans.
” Increase public investments to build our economic and social infrastructure generating jobs and boosting domestic demand. Fill up the vacancies in government jobs.”
They called for vastly enlarging MGNREGA with increasing guarantee for 200 days with at least doubling of wages.
They also demanded an urban employment guarantee programme on similar lines.
The leaders said vaccination of teachers, staff and students should be prioritised to ensure early re-opening of educational institutions.
“Hold immediate Supreme Court-monitored judicial enquiry into the use of Pegasus Spyware for surveillance of people. High-level investigation into the Rafale deal – the cancellation of the earlier order and placing of a new order at a higher cost,” the statement said.
“Stop using other draconian laws like sedition/NSA to violate democratic rights and civil liberties of the people. Release all media personnel detained for exercising their fundamental right of freedom of expression,” it added.
The leaders said that forms of the public protest actions against the BJP-led government will be decided by the respective state units of their parties depending on the concrete conditions of the COVID regulations and protocols existing in the state.
These forms may include dharnas, protest demonstrations and strikes, they said.
“We, the leaders of 19 Opposition Parties, call upon the people of India to rise to the occasion to defend our secular, democratic Republican order with all our might. Save India today, so that we can change it for a better tomorrow,” the statement said.
It said that Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav wrote a letter and expressed his inability to join the meeting as he was in the interior of the State. This statement was, however, sent to him.
They said the government “steamrolled legislations through the din of the disruption caused by its handling of both Houses of Parliament.”
The statement said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day address, “did not focus on a single-issue concerning people’s miseries”.
“The speech was full of rhetoric, empty slogans and disinformation. In fact, it was a repackaging of earlier speeches given in 2019 and 2020. This speech is an ominous warning that lives of our people will continue to be ruined further.”
The opposition leaders accused the government of “massive mismanagement in handling the COVID-19 pandemic” saying it has resulted in imposing severe pain on a large number of people, particularly families who have lost their beloved members.
” The instances of under-reporting, both the number of infections and the deaths, have been noted by many international and national agencies, who estimate that the actual figures are at least five times more than what is being officially stated.”
The statement said that only 11.3 per cent of adult population has received both doses and 40 per cent (including this 11.3 per cent) have received a single dose.
“The destruction of the Indian economy, with deepening recession, is pushing crores of our people into joblessness, escalating the levels of poverty and hunger. The run-away inflation and price rise is adding to people’s woes and destroying livelihoods,” it said.
Noting that the “historic struggle” by farmers against three farm laws continues into the ninth month now, the leaders accused the government of being “obdurate”.
“We reiterate our support to the struggle launched by the farmers under the banner of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha,” the statement said.
It said the procuring of “Pegasus Military Spyware for surveillance of people by Government of India is extremely alarming”.
“The government refuses to answer one straight question – has it, or any of its agencies purchased the Pegasus Spyware from the Israeli firm – NSO, known for cyber military surveillance? The government must answer and come clean. Such surveillance is not only a gross violation of people’s fundamental right to privacy but is an attack on Indian democracy and democratic institutions,” the statement said.
It said the “list of those under surveillance include political leaders, journalists, a former Supreme Court Judge and officers of the judiciary, a former Prime Minister, a former CBI Chief, a former Election Commissioner, two former Chief Ministers and others. This is ominous. Global media exposures show that such surveillance was rampant in 2019 on the eve of the general elections to Parliament.”
The leaders said that the destruction of the economy is accompanied “by a mega loot of our national assets, large-scale privatization of the public sector, including banks and financial services the privatization of our mineral resources and public utilities to benefit the cronies of Prime Minister”.
“This will be strongly resisted,” they said.
In her opening remarks, Sonia Gandhi said that the ultimate goal is defeating the BJP-led government in 2024 Lok Sabha elections and called for systematic planning and working with the single-minded objective for the purpose.
She called for collectively rising to the challenge of opposition unity, saying there is no alternative to working cohesively and the time has come for rising above compulsions in the national interest.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti and RJD’ Tejashwi Yadav were among those who attended the meeting.