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Rahul Gandhi pays homage to martyr Kushal Konwar

in Guwahati on Thursday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, Sept. 29: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi today appeared in the court of the chief judicial magistrate, Kamrup (metro), in a criminal defamation case filed by an RSS activist.

Rahul, who wore a pair of blue jeans, a white kurta and sports shoes, reached the court premises with PCC leaders at 10.10am and spent nearly half-an-hour inside the court of CJM, Kamrup (metro), Sanjay Hazarika. He left after execution of a personal recognizance (PR) bond of Rs 50,000.

Advocate Bijon Mahajan, who appeared on behalf of RSS activist Anjan Bora, told The Telegraph that the court had fixed November 5 as the next date of hearing when the offences would be explained to Rahul. Bora had filed the case against Rahul for alleging before the media in Delhi that RSS workers had stopped him from entering Barpeta Xatra in lower Assam in December last year.

On August 6, the CJM court had summoned Rahul after examining the evidence on record and six witnesses, besides the complainant, to face trial under Section 500 of the IPC, where the punishment is imprisonment up to two years or a fine or both.

Speaking to reporters outside the court soon after leaving the premises, Rahul slammed the RSS for its “divisive” ideology and vowed to continue his fight for poor, unemployed youths and farmers. “They (the BJP and RSS) want to deter me from my fight against divisive politics and weaken my fight for the weak and poor sections of society. But I am not scared,” he said.

“I am against the ideology of the RSS and all such organisations which divide India and are harmful for this country. I want to fight for the weak and poor people. I have started a yatra for farmers in Uttar Pradesh. They (the BJP and RSS) want to derail this yatra. They don’t want me to fight for the unemployed, the poor, the weak and the farmers. But this is not possible since such a fight exists in my DNA. Small traders, unemployed youths, farmers and the less privileged are not happy with this (Modi) government. This government is only for 10 to 15 people and our fight has to continue against this,” he told Congress workers and supporters outside the court premises.

Later, addressing a meeting of senior PCC leaders, MLAs, district Congress presidents and party secretaries at Rajiv Bhawan, the party headquarters here, he exhorted them to use all their energy and expertise to revive the Congress in Assam.

A senior Congress leader said, “We are extremely elated that Rahul personally appeared before the court against a case filed by the RSS cadre. He will again come in November. This will send a strong message to the people about the Congress’s fight against divisive and communal forces.”

This was Rahul’s first visit to Assam after the Congress’s humiliating defeat in the Assembly polls in April. Former chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who accompanied Rahul, said it was “both a legal and political battle for Rahul and the Congress against the saffron brigade’s divisive politics”.

Mahajan said it should have been just a legal battle for Rahul. “Rahul personally appeared before the court today and will do the same on November 5. He could have applied before the court to dispense his personal appearance in successive hearings in the court. Hence, there is a murmur in the legal fraternity that Rahul has converted the battle into a political one,” he said.

 
By Daulat Rahman

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Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal speaks at the meeting in Guwahati on Thursday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, Sept. 29: Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal today instructed the state’s deputy commissioners to prepare for a Kaziranga-like eviction drive to free government land, forests and xatras (Vaishnavite monasteries) and called upon police to improve vigil on the 2,300 sars (riverine islands) to check fundamentalist threat.

“All need to work together to free illegally occupied government land and xatras,” Sonowal told reporters after addressing an annual conference of the deputy commissioners and superintendents of police here.

Lauding the Nagaon district administration and police for “successful” eviction at Banderdubi village near Kaziranga National Park on September 20, Sonowal asked the officials to be “fearless and free from any pressure” to act sternly against encroachers.

“People of the state have shown tremendous support to the government in freeing xatras and forest land from encroachment,” Sonowal said while asking other districts to be proactive in freeing land from encroachers.

The state government had drawn criticism after two persons were killed during the eviction at Banderdubi. Sonowal’s instruction today is seen as the BJP-led government’s no-tolerance stand against encroachers in order to fulfil its pre-poll promise.

Sonowal had recently asked the state revenue department to formulate a revised land use policy – a long-standing demand by various organisations – keeping in mind the interests of indigenous communities and the necessity of providing land to 30,000 people affected by erosion. Sources said the government was planning to offer 12 bighas to erosion victims.

The revenue department today asked the deputy commissioners to set up a pool of non-agricultural and barren government land for industrial and other uses.

Sonowal said the government was prioritising the process to update the National Register of Citizens, 1951, and seal the India-Bangladesh border to protect the identity of indigenous communities and to check influx from Bangladesh. “People voted us to power with much hope. So we need to make some eye-catching pariborton (change). There is no scope for excuses and we all need to achieve the target,” he said.

The chief minister said a policing mechanism for the 2,300 sars was being planned. He asked the deputy commissioners and superintendents of police to share their inputs for successful implementation of the same.

Sources said the arrest of several Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) members in the state recently prompted the state government to increase vigil in the riverine areas, which are targeted by terror groups to spread their activities.

At least 50 JMB members, including two prime accused in the 2014 Burdwan blast in Bengal, have been arrested from Assam.

 
By SUMIR KARMAKAR

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Kokrajhar, Sept. 28: The Adivasi National Convention Committee today staged a six-hour blockade on National Highway 31 (C) to press for its demands, including ST status for communities residing in Assam and to expedite the peace talks with the rebel groups in ceasefire.

Traffic on the highway that connects the Northeast with the rest of the country was affected during the blockade as thousands of activists armed with banners, placards and festoons and shouting slogans took to the streets at Karigaon and Srirampur in Kokrajhar from 6am to noon.

The committee’s general secretary, Birsing Munda, also the commander-in-chief of the Birsa Commando Force, said the blockade was enforced in protest against the government’s attitude towards granting ST status to tea tribe communities and lack of effort to initiate peace talks with the outfits of the community.

Munda said the demand for inclusion of the Oraons, Mundas, Santhals, Kharias, Gonds, Sawras, among others, into the list of the Scheduled Tribes of Assam is not a new matter, rather “it is a matter of recognition of these tribes as Scheduled Tribes because their blood brethren living in other states are recognized as such”.

He said despite “fulfilling all criteria of our tribal characteristic, the Adivasi tea tribes of Assam are yet to be granted ST status”.

“The non-scheduling has done irreparable damage to the Adivasis in Assam,” he said and urged the government to fulfil the long-standing demand to settle the issue and initiate tripartite talks with militant groups.

He slammed both the state and central governments for not taking measures to address their demands. He also said five militant organisations of the community are in ceasefire but nobody is making any effort to initiate talks.

The committee leaders threatened to intensify their agitation if the Centre did not meet their demands at the earliest.

 
By Our Correspondent

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Participants in the workshop at Nirjuli. Picture courtesy: ATREE

Guwahati, Sept. 28: The India Biodiversity Portal – an open access biodiversity information platform – has over 12 lakh records from the country but less than 16,000 records from Arunachal Pradesh, a state known for its countless and diverse flora and fauna.

Speaking at the daylong Northeast India Biodiversity Portal training workshop organised in Itanagar last week, Rohit George, coordinator, Northeast India Biodiversity Portal, said one of the reasons for the paucity of data from Arunachal Pradesh is because it has large areas that are still unexplored or where bio-diversity has not been inventoried.

Even for the areas that have been studied, much of the data is not publicly available. This is one of the main reasons the portal was set up to make biodiversity data openly and freely available, he added.

Of the total records, 1.3 lakh are from the Northeast.

Furthermore, data from Arunachal Pradesh is not evenly distributed across various districts.

For instance, there is only one record from Kurung Kumey district and four from Upper Dibang Valley, whereas there are over 7,000 records from West Kameng district alone, George said. Another reason is that only a small number of participants are contributing to the portal.

The workshop was organised by Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment in collaboration with the department of forestry, North Eastern Regional Institute of Science and Technology.

The aim of the workshop was to provide an opportunity to researchers, students, conservation practitioners and biodiversity enthusiasts to learn about documenting and disseminating biodiversity-related knowledge.

The India Biodiversity Portal is an innovative, participatory, open-access biodiversity information platform to address the lack of open and freely available information. An open portal is required as large sets of data and information on biodiversity gets collected but these either remain with the collectors or are published in highly technical scientific journals.

“Nature nurtures us and therefore it is important to protect nature. Such biodiversity documentation should reach the rural communities who are the stewards of nature and schoolchildren who will be future conservationists. Mobile phones are now owned by most people and therefore documenting biodiversity information easily is possible,” said Rinchen Norbu, chairman, Losel Nyinje Charitable Society.

 
By Our Special Correspondent

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Chandra Mohan Patowary speaks in Guwahati on Wednesday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, Sept. 28: Assam today asked the World Bank to incorporate night navigation facilities in at least four water routes to start with and bolster the vessel fleet in the state under a $150million modernisation project, the implementation of which will start by December.

The World Bank has agreed to offer $120 million to the state government, following proposals submitted in July for assistance. The Centre will fund the rest.

State transport minister Chandra Mohan Patowary today thanked a World Bank team here for its support and said the project would give a fresh lease of life to Assam’s inland waterways transport department.

“I request the bank to incorporate under the project night navigation facilities in Sadiya (near the Arunachal border), in Lakhimpur and Dibrugarh, Majuli and Guwahati to facilitate ease of movement for the people there. New vessels should also be brought in to bolster ferry services,” Patowary said.

The bank team, led by senior transport specialist Atul Agarwal, outlined the scope of the project during a workshop on International Practices in Inland River Transport and Assam Inland Water Transport Projects here today.

The modernisation project has two components – to develop a long-term strategic plan for inland water transport in Assam and institutional and capacity development (estimated cost $15 million) and to improve passenger ferry services, including fleet modernisation and port navigation (estimated cost of US$ 135 million).”Under the Act East Policy, the inland water channel to Bangladesh will be opened shortly to boost trade and commerce in this region,” the minister said.

“The government will soon contemplate introducing free ferry services to carry corpses from Jorhat to Majuli as private operators charge exorbitant fees,” the minister said.

Assam has the largest inland waterways (along the Brahmaputra and Barak rivers) network in India. The navigable inland waterways of the state extend to 1,983km of India’s 14,544km, comprising 44 rivers. The project will also help develop infrastructure, including terminals.

Chief secretary V.K. Pipersenia said, “Inland water transport is not only cost-effective, but also environment friendly as it emits less pollution in comparison to other modes of transport.”

The World Bank team gave an overview of the practices of inland water transport system of countries such as Singapore, Australia, China, Vietnam and Bangladesh and its similar replication in Assam.

“The project aims to improve accessibility and institutional framework and build capacity of state institutions that administer, regulate and provide inland water transport services,” bank team leader Agarwal said.

The Assam Inland Water Transport Development Society has been constituted and notified as an apex autonomous body under the state transport department to manage, coordinate and monitor the project.

 
By A STAFF REPORTER

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A border road at Binnachara village in Dhubri district. Picture by Bijoy Kumar Sharma

Binnachara (Dhubri), Sept. 28: Restrictions on border roads imposed by the BSF, as it prepares to seal the border, has affected the life of the villagers of Dhubri district.

Prohibitory orders under Section 144 CrPC on the border roads have prohibited civilians’ movement.

Several patches along the 44km India-Bangladesh border road, including a 2km patch at Binnachara under Golokganj sector, have become a nightmare for the villagers because of the restrictions imposed from time to time on the movement of civilians by the district administration.

The villagers alleged that barbed wire fencing and border roads were wrongly aligned with the village roads constructed by the PWD (border) division.

Considering that the situation would get worse once the border is sealed, the villagers have demanded separate roads to commute freely.

Sanjoy Choudhury, who has a grocery shop opposite Binnachara border outpost of the BSF, said earlier the district administration used to clamp prohibitory orders from dusk to dawn to ensure peace, which did not have much impact on the villagers, but now restrictions are being strictly enforced.

Simanta Gramin Unnayan Society secretary Munnaf Ali Sheikh of Binnachara village said night curfew had paralysed the villagers’ lives, restricting their movement. During the restriction, anyone who wants to move along the border roads, has to obtain permission from the commandant of respective BOP.

“Seeking permission and obtaining it is a time-consuming task. It is extremely difficult to cope with emergencies like taking patients to hospitals, attending social functions and the like,” said Sheikh.

Several villagers, including the village’s former headman Abdul Jalil and social worker Ranjit Kumar Saha echoed the same problems and asked for separate village roads.

Since Union home minister Rajnath Singh’s announcement on June 3 on sealing the entire Indo-Bangla border within a year, night curfew has become a way of life for the border villagers.

A team of Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad that visited the Golokganj sector of the border a few days ago said the villagers welcomed the move as they thought that problems like cattle smuggling and infiltration would stop as promised by the Centre.

“If the border is sealed, the situation will get worse as restrictions will be enforced more strictly. We need alternative roads and sealed borders at the same time,” said Heman Chakraborty, vice-president of the AJYCP central committee.

Erosion of Gangadhar is another threat to the Binnachara villagers, said Alok Bardhan, AJYCP’s Dhubri district unit president.

AJYCP’s central executive member Munindra Nath Roy said the total length of the eroded part of the fencing along the border would be 5km.

In the past five years, Gangadhar has engulfed about 1,000 bighas of cultivable lands, including barbed wire fencing and border roads over 5km.

“Altogether a 14.2km road from Kanuri to Binnachara which ends with Bangladesh border, is being constructed at the cost of Rs 38 crore with bridges to protect the villages from further erosion,” an official said.

The AJYCP also sent a memorandum to chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal toady, seeking his intervention into the matter.

 
By Bijoy Kumar Sharma

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Kaayum Pegu

Guwahati/New Delhi, Sept. 28: Kaayum Krishna Pegu, 20, hailing from Chachal here, died today in a private hospital in Greater Noida after battling for her life for the past five days. She had sustained serious injuries in a car accident on September 23 while returning to New Delhi after attending a friend’s birthday party in Greater Noida.

Kaayum, a second-year student of BA English in Delhi University’s Miranda House college, is the daughter of Ghana and Dulumoni Pegu. She is survived by two younger sisters.

Her father, who works in the Assam transport department, and mother had rushed to New Delhi after they came to know of the accident.

The accident occurred when Kaayum was returning from Greater Noida to Vijaynagar, near North Campus, with three friends around 2am after attending the party. The Uber cab they were travelling in crashed into a stationary truck near Dalit Prerna Sthal in Noida. Kaayum was reportedly thrown onto the dashboard on impact. They were admitted to Noida’s Kailash Hospital by police.

Kaayum, who was on a ventilator, succumbed to multiple rib fractures, a head injury and internal bleeding, a hospital source said. Two other students, Siddharth Pathak from Assam and Akshara Badola from Uttarakhand, are still in the hospital but out of danger. The fourth student, Tanuz Kalita, 19, had a miraculous escape and was discharged after treatment for minor injuries on Saturday.

After post-mortem, Kaayum’s body was sent to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences for embalming. A relative said her body will be brought home tomorrow.

Assam Bhawan officer on special duty Joydeep Shukla told The Telegraph, “Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal has directed us to take care of all logistics. The government will pay expenses required to take her body back home by flight. The last rites may take place in Dhemaji.”

The driver, Viresh, who was reportedly driving at approximately 100km per hour and faces charges of rash and negligent driving and causing death by negligence, is out on bail. He reportedly fled after the collision and was smoking in the car.

The victim’s friends are using the hashtag #BoycottUber to protest.

Kaayum’s friend Hiya Singh Rajput wrote on Facebook, “We will fight till Uber takes responsibility and suitably compensates for all the expenses the family has undergone, financially at least.” Over the weekend, several people had volunteered to donate blood to the girl after an appeal from her brother Rikesh on Facebook.

The girl’s uncle, U.S. Kutum, told reporters that the family was unhappy with Uber. “We request them to hire sober and responsible drivers. Uber has not offered compensation and is asking us to wait for the insurance company of the cab to respond.”

A Uber spokesperson told The Telegraph, “We have given details of the driver and the trip to the family and the police. The family has been given necessary information for insurance. Uber drivers are independent and we do not fix any time for them to drive. In Bengaluru, we have launched the ‘nudge’ feature on the mobile app for drivers which informs them when they have been on the road for eight to 10 hours.”

Robin Hibu, nodal officer of the Delhi police’s unit for northeasterners, said a case had been registered.

In the Northeast, Uber services are available only in Guwahati with over 2,500 vehicles. There have been demands for a thorough check of the drivers, most of whom are from outside the city and most of whom find reading the GPS device installed in the cab difficult.

Nearly seven lakh people from the Northeast live in New Delhi as students and employees.

 
By BARNALI HANDIQUE and Pheroze l. Vincent

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Members of the dance troupe

Guwahati, Sept. 28: Not just football magic, but Indira Gandhi Stadium in Guwahati has much more in store for Saturday evening when Bollywood will cast its spell at the opening of the Indian Super League (ISL).

Bollywood has promised to make its glitzy presence felt in Guwahati like never before at the opening ceremony of the third edition of the Hero Indian Super League.

Actors Alia Bhatt, Jacqueline Fernandez and Varun Dhawan are gearing up to set the stage on fire with their performances on some of their most popular tracks.

NorthEast United FC (NUFC) owner and proud host of the opening ceremony, John Abraham, said, “I’m extremely happy to get this opportunity to host the opening ceremony. It’s a huge deal for my team as well as my people in the Northeast who have always showered the team with love and supported us throughout. The opening ceremony promises to draw the world’s attention to the potential of the Northeast and I hope this encourages more youths from the area to take up football professionally.”

ISL chairperson Nita Ambani will be accompanied by Sachin Tendulkar and Abhishek Bachchan, team owners of Kerala Blasters FC and Chennaiyin FC, sources said. Ranbir Kapoor of Mumbai City is likely to attend the event as well.

Rio Olympics silver shuttler P.V. Sindhu will be a star attraction during the 45-minute event.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was initially tipped to inaugurate the event, is unlikely to attend in view of the hostile Indo-Pak political scenario, sources said.

After the opening ceremony, the home team will kick off the league by taking on Kerala Blasters the same day.

Football fans from the Northeast are expected to throng the stadium for the opening ceremony and match and can groove to the music as the glamorous trio take the stage.

Going by the footfall in the first two editions of the ISL and the hype already generated this time, the Indira Gandhi Stadium is not likely to fall quiet after Bollywood departs. Trust the northeasterner to love his sport and the beautiful game even more so.

Both the teams have had successful pre-season campaigns with NUFC travelling to the United Arab Emirates while the men in yellow travelled to Thailand.

Both sides have hired new managers with former Saudi Arabia gaffer Nelo Vingada taking charge of the Highlanders and Englishman Steve Coppell signing for the Blasters.

The two teams missed out on qualifying to the semi-finals of the tournament last year and they will be looking to go the extra mile this time around.

NUFC missed out by only two points to finish fifth while Kerala finished at the bottom of the table in 2015. This promises to be a cracker of a season with a potentially explosive opening fixture.

Wangala performers

A dance troupe from Meghalaya’s Garo hills will also perform at the opening ceremony. Artistes from the Damas Youth Forum will perform the Wangala dance at Sarusajai Stadium.

The troupe is already in Guwahati rehearsing their act. “We are excited to be a part of the mega showdown as we will be able to showcase our rich culture,” said Manseng Momin of the forum, an NGO based in North Garo Hills. The women dancers will welcome the teams for the opening match, while male drummers will perform at the ceremony.

The artistes had earlier performed at various programmes in Haryana, Punjab, Manipur, Nagaland and Kerala. In January, they had performed at the opening ceremony of the South Asian Games.

“We are really fortunate to have been recognised for our dance. The various shows provide us an opportunity to create awareness about Garo culture and traditions and create interest in Wangala dance form,” Momin said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SAIDUL KHAN IN TURA

 
By AKANKSHYA CHALIHA

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Abani Kumar Bhagawati and Birubala Rabha launch the website in Guwahati on Wednesday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, Sept. 28: Crusader Birubala Rabha today plunged into a social media campaign against the brutality of witchhunting in Assam.

Moving away from her door-to-door drive in the affected villages to conferences in the towns, Birubala, 67, has toiled hard in her fight against the superstition that has killed nearly 150 since 2002.

A website of Mission Birubala, an NGO led by her since 2012, was launched here today while a Facebook account and a blog will soon be opened to connect with more people to join in her fight.

“We have rescued more than 50 victims of witchhunt in the past few years. Some have returned home but we have not been able to send seven women back. Education of their children has been affected while their mothers battle such crime. Such women should be provided livelihood options and their children need to be supported. We need more resources and public support. We will take the help of social media platforms to involve more and people in our fight,” the co-ordinator of Mission Birubala, Natyabir Das, said.

Birubala and writer Abani Kumar Bhagawati inaugurated the website here.

Rabha, who narrated how she began her door-to-door campaign in her native Thakurbila village in Goalpara district, stressed that the Prevention of and Protection from Witch Hunting Bill passed by the Assam Assembly in August last year should be notified soon.

Sources said the legislation was pending as the Union ministry of home affairs had sought clarification regarding some clauses. “Our mission to remove the illegal and inhuman practice of witchhunting will not be achieved without a strict law. I request the state government to take necessary steps so that the act becomes a law as early as possible,” Birubala told The Telegraph after the event.

The bill passed by the Assembly is said to be strictest such law in the country. It has provision for three years in jail to life imprisonment for branding a person a witch and abetting suicide.

It also ensures action against public servants for wilfully not registering a case in such incidents.

The bill was introduced after Rajeeb Kalita, a city-based lawyer, had filed a PIL in Gauhati High Court in 2013, seeking an anti-witchhunt law.

The PIL said when maladies such as illness, death or financial loss occur in a family, superstition leads many to believe that evil spells cast on them by others is the cause.

Those accused of practising witchcraft are often hunted down and ostracised by the community and the village.

Birubala, who was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, is working on a shelter home at Dudhnoi in Goalpara district for the victims of witchhunt and their rehabilitation.

 
By A Staff Reporter

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Rahul Gandhi

Guwahati, Sept. 28: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi will arrive here tomorrow to appear in a lower court in connection with a defamation case filed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) against him.

Sources told The Telegraph that Rahul will appear before the court of the chief judicial magistrate, Kamrup (metro), at 10.30am tomorrow as an accused in a criminal defamation case filed by the RSS for alleging before the media in New Delhi that its workers stopped him from entering Barpeta Xatra in lower Assam in December last year. The case was lodged by RSS cadre Anjan Bora.

On August 6, the CJM, Kamrup (metro), Sanjay Hazarika, summoned Rahul after examining the evidence on record and six witnesses, besides the complainant, to face trial under Section 500 of the IPC, which carries imprisonment of up to two years.

Advocate Bijon Mahajan, who will appear before the court on behalf of the complainant, told this correspondent this evening that three options were open for Rahul after the court summoned him.

“The first option is to appear personally before the court as an accused. The second is to seek more time to appear before the court in case Rahul is preoccupied. Thirdly, he can challenged the summons of the CJM before Gauhati High Court. But the third option has a limitation as it is a watertight case since Rahul openly blamed the RSS before the media,” Mahajan said.

The Congress has engaged senior advocate Nilay Dutta to fight the case on Rahul’s behalf. Assam PCC chief Ripun Bora, former chief minister Tarun Gogoi and other top party leaders will accompany Rahul during his hearing. After the court appearance, he will address a party meeting at Rajiv Bhawan to encourage party leaders and workers to intensify the campaign against the BJP’s false promises to the people.

Cong stand

In filing the defamation case, the Congress sees a desperate RSS strategy to restrain Rahul from ceaselessly portraying its philosophy as narrow and bigoted.

Congress leaders asserted that he was not going to be “cowed down” by these intimidatory tactics and was ready to fight any case the RSS chose to file against him.

Though personal appearance is a must in criminal defamation, Rahul’s aides claimed he would have anyway gone to attend the proceedings to send out a political message that he cannot be reined in through these tactics. They expressed surprise that a “criminal defamation case” was filed in this “small matter”.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SANJAY K. JHA IN NEW DELHI

 
By A STAFF REPORTER