Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday said it was “interesting” that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not said a single word on the rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman in Hathras last month, the Hindustan Times reported.

“It is...interesting that the woman was raped and murdered and the entire Uttar Pradesh administration targeted her family but the prime minister hasn’t said a word on the issue,” Gandhi told reporters in Patiala, Punjab, during a tractor rally to protest against the new farm laws.

Gandhi said he visited the family of the woman last week because he wanted them to know that they were not alone in seeking justice for their daughter. He claimed that he was in Hathras also for “lakhs of women in the country who face unruly behaviour every day, thousands of women who are raped in a day”.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath said in a tweet last week that Modi had spoken to him about the incident and directed that those responsible must get the strictest punishment.

Gandhi also attacked Adityanath on Tuesday, saying that the chief minister should have the decency to call the Hathras incident a tragedy, PTI reported. He made the remark when asked about the Uttar Pradesh government’s view that there was an “international conspiracy” to defame it.

“The CM of Uttar Pradesh should have the decency to say this is a tragedy and will look into it and will protect this family and this girl,” Gandhi said. “Yogi ji [Adityanath] is entitled to his opinion. He is more than welcome to imagine whatever he wants to imagine.” He recounted the brutal attack on the woman, adding that after the incident her family was threatened but no action was taken against the accused.

On September 14, four upper-caste Thakur men had tortured and raped the Dalit woman, who died on September 29. She had suffered multiple fractures and other serious injuries, and was left paralysed following the incident. The four men have been arrested.

After she died, the woman’s body was hastily cremated by the police against her family’s consent while they were locked in their home. This has led to massive outrage and protests across the country.

Farm laws

Gandhi also attacked Modi over the farm laws passed by Parliament, claiming that the prime minister cared only about his own image and not about the country. “They talk of ‘Bharat Mata’, but Narendra Modi gave 1,200 square km of ‘Bharat Mata’ to China to protect his image. It is a reality,” Gandhi claimed, according to PTI.

Gandhi suggested that the media should invite Modi to a press conference and talk to him freely. “...Modi ji is only interested in his image,” Gandhi said. “He will go to the [Atal] tunnel alone and then wave. The media, on which there is full monopoly, will show it. So, he has an obsession with his image only. What is happening in India, he is not bothered about it.” Modi had on October 3 inaugurated the all-weather Atal Tunnel at Rohtang in Himachal Pradesh.

The Congress leader alleged that the press in India was no longer free, but had been “captured” by the government. “Give me a free press and institutions that are free, [then] this government will not last long,” Gandhi claimed.

The Congress leader accused Modi of destroying the food security system with the three “black laws”. He asked why the bills were passed in Parliament at a time when farmers could not hit the streets in protest due to the coronavirus. Gandhi challenged Modi to come to Punjab and tell the farmers personally that the laws were in their interest.

Asked about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s criticism of him sitting on a cushion in the tractor he was riding in, Gandhi claimed that Modi rode on aeroplanes worth Rs 8,000 crore. Gandhi quipped that the prime minister’s new Air India One plane, “bought for more than Rs 8,000 crore of the taxpayers’ money, has not just a cushion but a whole lot of luxury beds for his comfort”, India Today reported.

The three ordinances – Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Assurance and Farm Service Ordinance 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 – passed on June 5, were converted into law by the Parliament in the third week on September, amid vehement protests.

The legislations loosen regulations on the sale, pricing and storage of agricultural produce. They allow farmers to sell outside mandis notified by the Agricultural Produce Market Committee. They enable contract farming through deals with private sector companies. They take food items like cereals and pulses off the list of essential commodities, lifting stock limits on such produce.