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Congress leaders observing a day-long Sadhbhavna Upvas across the country to protest against atrocities on Dalits, tribals and minorities; dilution of SC/ST Act

The Congress party was left red-faced and evidently embarrassed, on Monday (April 9), by its leaders Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar when the duo turned up – apparently uninvited – at the Raj Ghat to participate in a day-long fast for communal harmony that party president Rahul Gandhi was supposed to join shortly after.

The two leaders, both tainted by allegations of inciting communal violence in Delhi during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, were first asked to leave the stage erected at the venue of the Sadhbhavna Upvas by their party colleagues and then quietly informed to leave Raj Ghat shortly before Rahul Gandhi’s arrival.

Sources said that the Congress did not want Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar – both former members of parliament – to be seen sharing stage with Rahul Gandhi at an event that is being organised by the party to slam Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government over the alleged spike in instances of communal violence ever since the BJP came to power in May 2014.

The Sadhbhavna Upvas is being organised by the Congress as a peaceful protest against the rise in incidents of atrocities against members of the Dalit, tribal and minority communities and also the recent dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by the Supreme Court. Congress leaders and workers across all districts of the country have been asked to observe the fast on Monday.

The Congress, a host of other Opposition parties and a section of Dalit MPs of the ruling BJP too, have been protesting against the dilution of the SC/ST Act by the Supreme Court through a verdict delivered by a bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit on March 20. However, the Opposition parties have sought to build the narrative that the Supreme Court’s decision to dilute the Act by watering down its provisions that called for immediate arrest of persons accused of crimes under this law and denial of anticipatory bail to them was a direct consequence of the Modi government not adequately defending these stringent provisions in the top court.

Though Tytler vociferously denied that he was asked to leave the protest venue, sources in the Delhi-unit of the Congress party confirmed to APNLive that “the presence of the two senior leaders, both involved in cases related to the anti-Sikh riots, would have been counter-productive and helped the BJP to go on the offensive.”

“They (Tytler and Kumar) had not been asked by the party to attend the Sadhbhavna Upvas. The two arrived at Raj Ghat unannounced and were promptly asked to leave because we cannot have leaders charged in communal riot related cases present at a protest meant to protest against atrocities on various religious minorities and socially oppressed communities. It was an embarrassing gaffe and the party should have pre-empted such a possibility,” a senior Delhi Congress leader told APNLive.

“I wasn’t asked to leave. I always sit with workers,” Jagdish Tytler told reporters, while emphatically stating that charges of him having incited or participated in the anti-Sikh riots had not been proved in any of the cases filed against him in various courts.

Delhi Congress president Ajay Maken, while declining a direct comment on the presence of Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar at the party’s fast for communal harmony, said: “The protest is for all Congress workers… We have specific criteria for people sitting on the stage; no former MPs were supposed to be seated on the stage with the Congress president.”

The brief presence of Tytler and Kumar at Raj Ghat was enough to give the BJP a reason to taunt the Congress, with party spokesperson Sambit Patra claiming that the fact that the two Congress veterans were prevented from sharing the stage with Rahul and asked to leave the venue “shows that the Congress was admitting its role in the anti-Sikh riots.”

The embarrassment for the Grand Old Party, however, didn’t just stop at the presence of Tytler and Kumar at the fast for communal harmony. Delhi BJP leader Harish Khurana and some media organisations gave the Congress some blushes when they posted on Twitter photographs of senior party leaders Ajay Maken, Arvinder Singh Lovely and Haroon Yusuf having a meal at a restaurant prior to arriving at Raj Ghat to participate in the fast.

Lovely, a former minister in the Sheila Dikshit government who had quit the Congress some years ago to join the BJP before returning to the Grand Old Party last month, admitted to reporters later that the photograph wasn’t fake but had been clicked early on Monday morning before the “symbolic fast” was to officially commence.

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