Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a jibe on Wednesday at predecessor Manmohan Singh, saying he showered with a raincoat on when multiple scams were happening around him.
Modi’s remarks in the Rajya Sabha were viewed as a riposte to comments from Singh, an economist-politician, that the NDA government’s demonetisation exercise was equivalent of “loot and plunder”.
“There have been so many scams. But he has maintained an unblemished image. People should learn from Dr Singh the art of taking a bath wearing a raincoat,” he said, triggering an instant wave of protests by the Congress.
Congress members vowed they won’t allow Modi to speak in Parliament until he apologised. Singh, known for his measured comments, was listening silently all along. He and fellow party members walked out of the Upper House later.
In a tweet, party vice president Rahul Gandhi called the day’s events saddening and shameful.
“When a Prime Minister reduces himself to ridiculing his predecessor-years his senior, he hurts the dignity of the Parliament & the nation. He demeans his position and himself more than anyone else.”
He demeans his position and himself more than anyone else. Today's events were saddening and frankly; they were shameful— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) February 8, 2017
The opposition parties, including the Congress, have been protesting against the government’s decision to pull out 500-and 1,000-rupee banknotes last November to fight a parallel illegal cash-driven economy.
Singh said in Parliament’s winter session that the deaths and distress linked to the notes recall convinced him the demonetisation drive led to “organised loot and legalised plunder”.
The loot barb was not forgotten. Almost three months later, Modi responded: “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.”
Modi is known to hit out at critics hard but he has seldom criticised the two-term former Prime Minister in such strong words.
He suggested that Singh’s speech on demonetisation was ghost-written, a taunt aimed at diluting the Congress’s use of the former prime minister’s comments to corner the government.
“Such a big thing like demonetisation has never happened. Economists around the world don’t have parameters to understand this … This can be a case study for them,” he said.
The Prime Minister had been defending his government’s notes ban on public platforms all along, but came out all guns blazing in Parliament this budget session, peppering his speeches with stinging attacks on the Congress that ruled the country for 10 years before he came to power in 2014.
He was speaking in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday when it was debating the motion of thanks on the President’s address to Parliament.
His comments on Singh escalated the confrontation between the Congress and ruling NDA.
Senior Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram said: “It was in extremely poor taste. It is unbecoming of a Prime Minister to use such language against a former PM. It certainly is unbecoming of anyone to say such harsh ugly statements about Dr Manmohan Singh. We are very, very angry.”
The protests prompted information and broadcasting minister M Venkaiah Naidu to jump to his leader’s defence, accusing the Congress of calling Modi names such as Hitler and Mussolini.
The Congress dismissed Naidu’s allegations.
“Never ever we called the Prime Minister names, even though he functions in a dictatorial manner. The fact is that he is behaving in an extremely insulting and arrogant manner towards the entire Opposition,” said Anand Sharma, the party’s deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha.