The opposition Congress vowed on Thursday to boycott Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the remainder of Parliament’s budget session if he does not apologise for his barbs against predecessor Manmohan Singh.
Modi taunted the economist-politician in the Rajya Sabha the day before, remarking that he showered with a raincoat on to maintain his “unblemished image” when multiple scams were cropping up around him. It was a stinging riposte to Singh calling the NDA government’s demonetisation exercise equivalent of “loot and plunder”.
An angry Congress walked out and declared it won’t allow the Prime Minister to speak in Parliament until he apologised.
“We will boycott him but won’t assault the dignity of the office. We know that he is an obdurate person … He has demeaned his office repeatedly by his choice of words and language,” Congress leader Anand Sharma said.
The ruling BJP’s response was swift. The party ruled out an apology, saying the Congress has no moral right to “preach or give sermons” as it too had called Modi names and so should say sorry as well.
BJP chief Amit Shah reminded Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi of the “language” his mother and party president had used against Modi.
Shah’s reference was to the Maut ka Saudagar or merchant of death remark that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had made when Modi was chief minister of Gujarat.
Rahul Gandhi, who had called Modi’s comments saddening and shameful, said at an election rally in Uttarakhand that the Prime Minister had lowered the dignity of his office.
Protests engulfed Parliament, a day before it went into an almost month-long recess, as opposition parties joined the Congress in demanding an apology from the Prime Minister for “using abusive and insulting language” against his predecessor.
They dug up instances from the past to nail the ruling party. Congress leader Sharma alleged that Modi had “insulted the memory” of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. CPM’s Sitaram Yechury said Modi had used “abusive” language against his party’s former general secretary.
The Congress, CPM and Janata Dal (United) forced adjournments of the Rajya Sabha twice.
In the Lok Sabha, where the BJP enjoys a brute majority, the Congress, NCP and RJD walked out briefly over Modi’s remarks. Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge said the comments were unbecoming of a Prime Minister.
Parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar jumped to his leader’s defence, saying the Lower House has nothing to do with what happened in the Rajya Sabha.
As proceedings got obstructed in both Houses because of the protests, urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu demanded an apology from the opposition party for its uncharitable remarks against the Prime Minister.
He said Congress leaders had used “absurd and cheap” words against Modi.
“Let them not teach or preach pravachan (sermons) to others,” he said. “They called him Hitler, Mussolini, Gaddafi. It is a shame. They are not able to understand the reality. Why should the Prime Minister apologise?” Naidu asked.
His colleague, Ravi Shankar Prasad, too launched a stinging attack on the Congress and defended Modi’s dig. “Fun, pun and repartee” are part of parliamentary debate, and the Congress was using Singh as a “useful expendable” outsider to protect the Gandhi family’s interests, he said.
Singh said during Parliament’s winter session last November that the deaths and distress linked to the shock recall of 500-and 1,000-rupee banknotes were a reflection of an “organised loot and legalised plunder”. The Congress flaunted Singh’s strong speech in its protest against the demonetisation drive.
The barb was not forgotten. Modi responded on Wednesday with the raincoat taunt and said: “We have the ability to pay back in the same coin … If someone used such words, then he should be ready to hear the reply.”