Back from a nearly eight-week-long sabbatical, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Monday launched a blistering attack on the Narendra Modi government in the Lok Sabha, calling it a “suit-boot ki sarkar” that neglects farmers and labourers, with party colleagues cheering his every barb.
The 44-year-old took several digs at the NDA and the Prime Minister during a debate on agrarian issues, saying the government that promised “achhe din”, or good days, failed the farmers and favoured the rich.
“The government has weakened the farmers and then hit them with the axe of (land) ordinance,” he said. “Yours is a government of the rich who do not understand that the real power of the country lies with its farmers and labourers, and not with the industrialists.”
Rahul looked confident and composed in his first speech in Parliament from the Opposition benches as he laced his words with sarcasm, pun, and humour, while young colleagues like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Deepender Hooda, and Gaurav Gogoi repeatedly thumped their desks and took on combative ruling party MPs.
When the treasury benches protested against his use of the phrase “aapke pradhan mantriji (your prime minister)” to describe Modi, the Amethi MP turned the tables on the BJP lawmakers saying he was the PM of the entire country. “Are you trying to say that he is the nation’s PM but not yours?” he asked.
In an indirect reference to the name-striped suit Modi wore to much criticism during US President Barack Obama’s visit in January, the Congress vice-president said he would not talk about it as it was auctioned.
Rahul seemed to relish the frequent interruptions to his 20-minute speech by ruling lawmakers and union minister Venkaiah Naidu had to request them to allow the Congress leader to speak.
“The Congress only spoke about farmers but did nothing. That’s why we are in the government and they are in the Opposition,” Naidu said, countering the arguments.
Rahul last week took over the reins of the Congress campaign against the government’s land acquisition law, as he led a large farmers rally in the Capital on Sunday with the aim to shore up his party’s dwindling electoral fortunes on the back of public anger against the legislation.
“The Prime Minister understands political calculations. Then why is this government ignoring the farmers and labourers and not listening to them?” he asked in Parliament. “This is because this government only works for industrialists...You are making a huge mistake. You are hurting the farmers and then they will hurt you.”
Congress president Sonia Gandhi entered the House only after Rahul’s speech was over and his sister, Priyanka Vadra, frequently seen in the Speaker's gallery when he makes interventions, was also absent.
Party sources said Sonia could not be present in the House as she had a pre-scheduled meeting with farmers and the decision about Rahul's intervention was taken only at around 1 pm, three hours before he finally spoke.
“I was confident he would speak well,” Sonia told reporters later.
Rahul also took potshots at transport minister Nitin Gadkari. “I praise him for speaking the truth. He said that farmers should not rely on either God or government.”
He also questioned the dissimilar figures provided by the PM and the agriculture ministry on rain-affected areas.
“There are talks about defence, fighter planes... But how will you strengthen the country when the foundation is the farmers?” he asked.
While leaving Parliament, Rahul told reporters, “I got no response. This government is incapable of responding to issues.”