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No-confidence motion: Rahul Gandhi launches scathing attack on NDA govt; gives PM Modi a hug

In a nearly hour-long speech, Gandhi accused the government of crony capitalism, repeated allegations of wrongdoing in the Rafale deal and said the entire country had become a victim of what he termed “Jumla Strikes” (deception).

india Updated: Jul 21, 2018 00:06 IST
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
No-confidence motion,Rahul Gandhi,NDA govt
Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as Congress President Rahul Gandhi walks away after hugging him in the Lok Sabha during a no-confidence motion debate in the Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi on Friday. (PTI photo)

Congress president Rahul Gandhi launched a blistering attack on the National Democratic Alliance and on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech during the debate on the no-confidence motion against the government on Friday.

In a nearly hour-long speech, Gandhi accused the government of crony capitalism, repeated allegations of wrongdoing in the Rafale deal, said the entire country had become a victim of what he termed “Jumla Strikes” (deception), and then ended his aggressive speech by walking up to a surprised Modi and hugging him.

He hinted that Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah were afraid to lose power -- unlike the Congress, he said -- because of “the fear that other processes” would set in if they were out of power.

The no-confidence motion was brought by the BJP’s erstwhile partner in the NDA, the Telugu Desam Party, which has accused the government of reneging on the promise of special category status to Andhra Pradesh after the state’s bifurcation in 2014 for the creation of Telangana.

Pointing to TDP member Jayadev Galla, Gandhi said, “I sensed a certain anxiety, a deep feeling of pain and I want to tell you from here that you are the victim of a 21st century political weapon. I want to tell you that you are not alone. That political weapon is called Jumla Strike.”

He said the promise to bring back black money and deposit Rs 15 lakh in the account of every Indian (made by Modi ahead of the 2014 general election) , and the promise to create 2 crore jobs a year were also similar ‘Jumla Strikes’.

Playing on another of Modi’s comments during the campaign, Gandhi alleged that Modi had become a “bhagidaar” (partner) and not the “chowkidar” (watchman) that he promised he would be , and accused him of favouring ‘10-20 businessmen friends.”

Alleging corruption in the deal to purchase Rafale fighter planes, Gandhi said the Prime Minister took away the contract to manufacture the planes from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and gave it to “one of his businessmen friends” who is in debt of ₹30,000 crore and “had never made an aeroplane in his life.”

“Everybody understands the relationship the Prime Minister has with certain businessmen. One of those was given the Rafale contract and the gentleman benefitted to the tune of ₹45,000 crore,” Gandhi alleged.

Gandhi claimed that defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman had held out an assurance that the government would reveal the price of the deal for purchase of Rafale aircraft from Dassault Aviation of France, but later refused on the grounds that there was a secrecy agreement between India and France.

“I asked this to French President and he said there is no such pact. He also told me that you can tell this to your country. Under the Prime Minister’s pressure, the defence minister has clearly spoken an untruth,” he alleged.

Sitharaman later clarified that the secret agreement between the two countries was signed during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2008.

A French foreign ministry spokesperson said details of defence deals were classified. “France and India concluded in 2008 a security agreement, which legally binds the two states to protect the classified information provided by the partner, that could impact security and operational capabilities of the defence equipment of India or France. These provisions naturally apply to… the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft and their weapons,” an emailed statement shortly after Gandhi’s speech said.

Questioning the Prime Minister’s silence on incidents of mob lynchings and crimes against women, Dalits and minorities, Gandhi claimed that for the first time in its history, India’s reputation has taken a hit abroad.

“The opinion abroad is that India cannot protect its women, Dalits and minorities but there is no word from the Prime Minister. I want to ask him, are they not the citizens of this country?” he said.

Referring to union minister Jayant Sinha’s act of garlanding of those accused of taking part in a lynching in Jharkhand when the suspects were out on bail, the Congress leader it was the duty of the Prime Minister to protect the citizens of the country.

“‘The Prime Minister should say what is in his heart. Is this an attack on Constitution and this House when your minister talks about changing the Constitution? It is an attack on the entire country and we will not tolerate and let this happen.”

Towards the end of his speech Gandhi said he didn’t hate the BJP despite it abusing him and calling him ‘Pappu”. He also said he would “remove hatred” from the minds of the BJP members.

“The Prime Minister is smiling, but I can see there is a touch of nervousness in the gentleman. He cannot look me in the eye,” the Congress president said amidst shouting from the Treasury benches . Modi responded by looking him in the eye and smiling.

That was a precursor to the drama at the end of the speech when, after speaking of forgiveness and love, Gandhi walked across and hugged a visibly surprised Modi. Quick to react, Modi called Gandhi back, shook his hand, patted him on the back, and said something in his ear. While it is not clear what was said, the image of the two leaders, smiling at each other even as they clasped hands, was in sharp contrast to the antagonism on display just minutes before. Gandhi then returned to his seat and smiled and winked at someone in the Congress.

Subsequently, though, Gandhi’s gesture attracted some criticism from speaker Sumitra Mahajan who said such behaviour wasn’t appropriate in parliament.

The Congress was delighted with Gandhi’s speech. “It has sent a strong message to the country before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Today, he has established himself as the face of the Opposition and Modi’s main challenger. Rahulji’s speech has infused fresh energy in the party and given us workers the required fighting spirit to take on the BJP,” said Kishore Kumar Jha, a Congress leader from Bihar .

Political analysts gave thumbs -up to Gandhi’s speech and the hug he gave the Prime Minister. “I think Gandhi tried to present a different picture because he knows he cannot compete with Modi if he tries to borrow the Prime Minister’s style by being aggressive . He tried to send a clear message that ‘ he is critical of the government not because of Modi as a person but because of its failures,” said Sanjay Kumar of the Delhi-based Centre for Study of Developing Societies.

“The difference is that when Modi criticises the Congress and its policies I think many times he crosses that line and becomes a little personal in caricaturing Rahul. By hugging Modi after his speech, the big message that Gandhi has sent out was that he respects the position of the Prime Minister and has nothing personal against him,” he added.

Another Delhi-based political analyst, N Bhaskara Rao, agreed: “He gave a good speech and made an unprecedented gesture by hugging the Prime Minister. He has finally arrived in Parliament. But we now have to see whether his speech will have any impact on the ground in the coming times. He has also positioned himself against the Prime Minister. He has made it a Modi versus Rahul battle in 2019,” Rao said.

A BJP spokesperson said Gandhi’s hug did not conform to parliamentary decorum. “Gandhi could have met the prime minister outside the house to express gratitude to a leader, who is loved by countrymen for giving them corruption free government,” BJP spokesman Syed Shahnawaz Hussain said. “His conduct inside Lok Sabha lowered the dignity of Parliament.”

First Published: Jul 20, 2018 23:44 IST