Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Thursday claimed that Dalits are “beaten up and crushed” wherever a Bharatiya Janata Party government is in power, PTI reported. Gandhi made the remark at a demonstration held in New Delhi against the dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

“If [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi had space for Dalits in his heart, then the policies for Dalits would have been different,” Gandhi said at the protest at Jantar Mantar that was also attended by Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury, ANI reported. “When he was the [Gujarat] chief minister he wrote in his book, ‘Dalits find happiness in cleaning work’. This is his ideology.”

The All India Ambedkar Mahasabha, an umbrella organisation of Dalit outfits, had called the shutdown on Thursday to protest against the Supreme Court’s order in March that diluted the law and prompted massive protests on April 2 in which 11 people died.

However, they postponed the protests on Wednesday, days after the Lok Sabha passed the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2018. The government introduced the bill after the Lok Janshakti Party, a member of the ruling National Democratic Alliance, threatened to join Thursday’s protests.

Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah hit back at Rahul Gandhi saying he “should give some time to facts” when he is “free from winking and disrupting Parliament”.

On July 19, after his speech in the Lok Sabha during the no-confidence motion debate, Gandhi had walked up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and hugged him. While the moment set off hundreds of memes on social media and gave netizens an opportunity to embrace humour, newspapers across the country splashed the picture of the hug across their front pages, to commentary ranging from “Rahul Gandhi creates flutter” to “theatrics and drama”.

Shah, in a series of tweets that the BJP-led NDA government “ensured the strongest amendment” to the SC/ST Act, and questioned why Gandhi was opposing it.

“Congress way of treating Dalits is patronising and condescending,” Shah claimed. “For years, Congress insulted Dalit aspirations.”