Setting the mood for the 2019 general election campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday launched a no-holds-barred attack on the Congress by raking up past sins, listing economic woes his government has inherited from the UPA and accused the main Opposition party of being corrupt, anti-dalit and anti-Hindu.
Delving deep into history, Mr Modi, in his hard-hitting speeches in both Houses, also accused the Congress of backstabbing leaders like Neelam Sanjiva Reddy and Sardar Patel and said that Partition and a part of Kashmir being under Pakistan’s control were both results of the Congress’ wrong policies that the country is still paying for.
“If Sardar Patel had been the country’s first Prime Minister, then a part of Jammu & Kashmir would not be in Pakistan’s control,” he said, claiming that most units of the Congress had backed Patel over Jawaharlal Nehru, who eventually became Prime Minister.
In his nearly one-and-a-half hour speech in Lok Sabha, Mr Modi called NPAs the UPA government’s “sin” and gave figures for the “first time”, adding that had he spoken earlier, it would have seriously harmed the economy.
In the Rajya Sabha, Mr Modi was at his sarcastic best when he said that the term “Congress Mukt Bharat” was not coined by the BJP but by Mahatma Gandhi and the ruling party was just following him. The Prime Minister said the Congress was not interested in a “New India” as envisioned by Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi but an “old India” marked by Emergency, scams and the Bhopal gas tragedy.
“Swami Vivekananda had envisioned a new India. Mahatma Gandhi wanted a young India… but they (Congress) don’t want a New India (government’s vision for 2022)… they say we want Gandhi’s India, but he (Gandhi) had also asked for a Congress Mukt Bharat and asked for its disbandment after Independence as there was no need for it… We (BJP) are only following his vision,” said Mr Modi, with Treasury benches members seen thumping desks. Mr Modi spoke for more than an hour in the House.
His entire 90-minute speech in the Lok Sabha, however, was drowned out by loud slogan-shouting by Opposition parties, chiefly the Congress and Left. Interestingly, the CPI(M) which is in throes of a debate on whether or not to align with the Congress, collaborated with it on the floor of the House. CPI(M) MPs Mohd Salim and A. Sampath carried placards on the Rafael deal being circulated by the Congress.
As Opposition members trooped into the Well of the House, UPA chairperson and Congress parliamentary party leader Sonia Gandhi was seen chanting a slogan in Malayalam which Mr Sampath had begun. Translated, it means, “Kya hua… kya kua (What happened, what happened)”.
Other leaders in the Well shouted “Jhoota bhashan band karo (stop the false speech)”.
Members of the Trinamul Congress staged a walkout from both the Houses terming the Prime Minister’s speech a “political speech”.
However, an unfazed Prime Minister went on with his speech and even made a placatory gesture towards ally TDP which is on the warpath, saying that Andhra Pradesh was suffering due to the “hasty decision” of the erstwhile UPA government to bifurcate the state in 2014 for “political benefits”.
Incidentally, TDP members were present in the Well throughout the day demanding the government fulfil promises made to them during bifurcation. In Rajya Sabha, in fact, TDP leader C.M. Ramesh was marshalled out because he refused to tone down his protest.
Mr Modi continued, undeterred.
The President’s address, Mr Modi said, does not belong to one party but underlines the government’s direction. And, in a dig, asked Opposition leaders to read it or “seek others’ help if they cannot understand its language”.
“When the corrupt and middlemen are out of work, obviously the Congress will be unhappy… Nobody is going to be spared. Those who have robbed the country will have to return their loot to the common man,” he said amid thumping of desks by Treasury benches and loud sloganeering by Congress members in the Well.
In the Upper House, Mr Modi recalled the words of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, and said the party wanted an India in which thousands of innocent Sikhs were done to death.
“‘When a big tree falls’… You remember these lines. Is this the India the Congress wants,” he asked.
Taking on the Congress for its oft repeated criticism of the Modi government being just a “name changer” of UPA’s earlier schemes, Mr Modi said his government was, in fact, “aim chaser” and has ushered in a paradigm shift in the working of the system.
He asked the Opposition party that while criticising him and his government, it should not criticise the nation. He accused the Opposition party of being “cut off” from the ground realities and said the Congress has still not accepted that people like him (from a humble background) can also become Prime Minister.
Mr Modi said Congress was in the habit of hearing praises when it was in power and still wants to take credit for work being done by the NDA government. He said the Opposition party must be given credit for its negative publicity of the GST, for not implementing food security, for the closure of fertiliser factories, for not letting the bill for an OBC Commission passed and for stalling the bill against triple talaq.
“Congress is vociferously batting for change in triple talaq law. If you feel so strongly about bringing changes to the triple talaq bill, then you should have brought the law yourself when you were in power for so many years. What stopped you,” asked Mr Modi as he sought the Opposition’s cooperation in passing the legislation, which is yet to be cleared in the Rajya Sabha.
Apparently asking the Opposition not to communalise the issue, the Prime Minister was heard saying, “If a Hindu commits bigamy and goes to jail, who will take care of his parents… Did you ever think about this?”
Opposition parties, including the Congress, want amendment in the bill. They are against the criminalisation provision for husbands committing instant triple talaq, which has been declared void and illegal by the Supreme Court.
Mr Modi later tweeted the video clipping of his speech where he mentioned the OBC commission and triple talaq bill and wrote, “Our fight for justice for the OBC communities and Muslim women will continue.”
Responding to criticism over his Davos visit, Mr Modi said, “I also went to Davos, you also went to Davos. But the difference is — you went with a letter to save someone”.
He raised the issue of holding simultaneous polls. Saying that thousands of crores, time and energy goes into holding elections, he asked whether a country like India can afford it. Seeking the Opposition’s cooperation in working out a solution in this regard, Mr Modi later tweeted: “It is time for a constructive debate on simultaneous Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections in various states.”
Talking about the Congress’ claim that it had brought Aadhaar, he said, “Let me remind them about a debate in the Rajya Sabha in 1998 and what L.K. Advani Ji said. It is in his speech that you will find the genesis of Aadhaar.” Congress members strongly reacted to Mr Modi’s claim.