Sonia Gandhi in Lok Sabha
New Delhi: Congress leader Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday slammed the government for "stubbornly" refusing a discussion on the India-China border issue in Parliament, saying silence on matters of serious concern has become its defining feature. She also accused the Centre of making a calculated attempt to "delegitimise" the judiciary, terming it as a "troubling new development".
Launching a scathing attack on the Modi government during her address to party MPs in the central hall of Parliament, she said refusing a parliamentary debate on such a serious issue as Chinese "incursions" shows "disrespect for our democracy and reflects poorly on the government's intentions".
She said a frank discussion strengthens the nation's response and it is the duty of the government of the day to inform the public and explain its policies and actions with respect to the security and border situation.
Noting that the "continuing incursions by China on our border is a matter of serious concern", the former Congress president who was chairing the parliamentary party meeting said the nation stands with vigilant soldiers who repelled these attacks under difficult conditions.
Gandhi said when facing a significant national challenge, it has been the tradition in the country to take Parliament into confidence.
"The government, however, stubbornly refuses to allow a discussion on the issue in Parliament. As a result, Parliament, political parties and the people remain ignorant of the true situation on the ground," she said.
"Unfortunately, silence on matters of serious concern has become the defining feature of this government's tenure.
"While blocking debate, the government is also actively engaged in targeting the opposition and any questioning voices, manipulating the media and undermining the institutions which stand in their way. This is happening not only in the Centre but also in every state where the ruling party governs," she charged.
Indian and Chinese troops clashed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh on December 9 and the face-off resulted in "minor injuries to a few personnel from both sides", according to the Indian Army.
The Congress-led Opposition has been demanding a discussion on the India-China clash and border situation in Parliament and has led to several disruptions. The government has maintained that it was a sensitive issue concerning national security and there should be no politics over it.
"This refusal to allow a parliamentary debate on such a matter of grave national concern shows disrespect for our democracy, and reflects poorly on the Government's intentions. It demonstrates its inability to bring the nation together," Gandhi also asserted.
She alleged that "by following divisive policies, by spreading hatred and targeting some sections of our society, the government makes it harder for the country to stand up as one against foreign threats."
"Such divisions weaken us and make us more vulnerable. At times like this it must be the government's endeavour and responsibility to unite our people, not divide them as it has been doing these past several years," Gandhi said at the meeting.
She said a debate can shed light on several critical questions like why China is emboldened to continually attack India and what preparations have been made to repel these attacks, and what more needs to be done.
"What is the government's policy to deter China from future incursions? Given that we continue to have a severe trade deficit with China, importing far more than we export, why is there no economic response to China's military hostility? What is the government's diplomatic outreach to the global community," she asked.
Gandhi also accused the government of making an effort to reduce the standing of the judiciary in the eyes of the public.
"A troubling new development is the calculated attempt underway to delegitimise the judiciary. Ministers - and even a high constitutional authority - have been enlisted to making speeches attacking the judiciary on various grounds.
"It is quite clear that this is not an effort to provide reasonable suggestions for improvement. Rather, it is an effort to reduce the standing of the judiciary in the eyes of the public," Gandhi alleged.
Her remarks come in the wake of recent run-ins between the government and the judiciary over several issues including the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.
Earlier this month, Rajya Sabha chairman and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar had criticised the judiciary for scrapping the NJAC bill related to appointment procedure for judges in higher courts and had termed it an instance of "severe compromise of parliamentary sovereignty".
Law Minister Kiren Rijiju has also made some critical remarks on the judiciary in Parliament saying the issue of vacancies in the higher judiciary will linger till a new system is created.
Talking about the recently concluded elections, Sonia Gandhi said the Congress formed its government in Himachal Pradesh but termed the results in Gujarat and Delhi as "unfortunate".
Congratulating party colleagues in the hill state for their victory, she said, "Now, it is time to fulfil the promises made to the people of Himachal".
She noted that the economic situation continues to be distressing, despite the government's repeated insistence that "all is well".
The prices of daily commodities continue their "intolerable" rise, placing a heavy burden on crores of households, the Congress leader said, adding the inability to provide jobs, especially for the youth, has been a feature of this government's tenure.
Even as the prime minister hands over appointment letters for a few thousand, crores more face an uncertain future with government vacancies unfilled, exams unreliable, and PSUs being privatised, she said.
Small businesses that provide the bulk of employment in the country are struggling to survive after blows of demonetisation, a poorly implemented GST, and a mismanaged response to the pandemic, she alleged.
Gandhi said farmers face rising costs and uncertain prices for crops, but they seem to be no longer the government's priority after its "misguided attempt" at forcing down the three farm laws.
She also lauded the Bharat Jodo Yatra as a "matter of pride" and thanked Rahul Gandhi for his courage and determination, and the untiring efforts of everyone to make it a success.
She noted that every Indian has supported the yatra and its message of fraternity and equality and its response shows that most Indians desire peace, harmony and social and economic equality.
Gandhi also highlighted that the meeting was being held at a time when the country faces internal and external challenges of inflation, unemployment, social polarisation, "weakening" of democratic institutions and repeated border incursions and the Congress "has a great responsibility to continue to strengthen and renew ourselves to fulfil it".
She also welcomed Mallikarjun Kharge at his first CPP meeting after becoming the Congress president and hoped the party would continue to get his guidance.
Kharge later thanked the CPP chairperson Sonia Gandhi for extending a warm welcome to him in his first CPP General Body meeting as the Congress president.
"India, under the Modi Government faces significant challenges. We reaffirmed our solemn commitment to be a strong voice of the people," he tweeted.