India’s opposition Congress party staged a show of defiance on Friday, with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi leading a rally and march to parliament to resist what they called Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid to destroy democracy.
The opposition party hit back after facing a slew of corruption accusations leveled by Modi’s ruling party over a helicopter order made when Congress was last in power.
Addressing the Save Democracy March, Congress leaders accused Modi of trampling on civil rights and of failing to alleviate the impact of a drought under which 400 million Indians are suffering.
“The Indian National Congress will never bow down before injustice,” said Sonia Gandhi, 69, who party strategists say may soon cede the Congress leadership to her son, Rahul.
Rahul said Modi had promised 20 million new jobs every year but in reality the Indian economy had created only 130,000.
“Modi talked about good days to come but today the country is reeling under drought and farmers are committing suicide,” said the 45-year-old heir apparent, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather all served as prime minister.
“But Modi ji has nothing to say.”
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dismissed the rally as an attempt to divert attention from the helicopter scandal, know as “Choppergate”, that has dominated news headlines for weeks.
“The Congress is accusing Modi ji because we have proof to show that the Gandhi family was involved in series of scams,” said Shrikant Sharma, BJP national general secretary.
“They stand exposed.”
Congress has rejected accusations from Modi’s allies that Congress leaders were either complicit in, or blocked investigations into, corrupt payments linked to an order of a dozen helicopters from Italy.
A Milan appeals court recently sentenced the former bosses of Finmeccanica and its AgustaWestland unit to jail terms for false accounting and corruption in the $640 million (£443 million) order that was scrapped just before the 2014 general election.
India’s Supreme Court on Friday heard a petition brought by a New Delhi lawyer calling for it to set up a special investigation team to open a judicial probe. It gave the government and India’s Central Bureau of Investigation four weeks to respond.