PM Modi in campaign mode in Parliament, targets Congress
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in campaign mode during his speech in the Lok Sabha in the so-called reply to the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address.
Over the course of a 90-minute speech, he targeted the Congress for everything from the partition of India to the crisis in banking to the Kashmir issue to dynastic politics; invoked the spirit of 12th-century philosopher-statesman Basava (in a move clearly motivated by the coming elections in Karnataka); and emphasised his government’s commitment to providing “good education facilities, affordable housing, and good infrastructure”.
The Congress wasn’t impressed. “I think Modiji has forgotten that he is the PM now, he should answer questions and not always accuse the opposition,” Congress president Rahul Gandhi told reporters outside Parliament, adding that the prime minister should answer the public’s questions on Rafale and unemployment.
Modi continued in the same vein a few hours later in the Rajya Sabha. Refuting allegations made a few days ago by the Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad in the House that the BJP was just repackaging old schemes of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and passing them off as its own, he said his government was not a “name changer” but an “aim changer”. He also made a pitch again for simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the states, an idea that seems to have captured political imagination in recent times.
Earlier, in the Lok Sabha, perhaps irked by the interruptions to his speech — the first was from members of the Telugu Desam Party, an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seeking a special package for Andhra Pradesh and the second by members of the Congress — the prime minister lashed out at the Congress.
Some analysts said his aggression might have also been caused by continuing criticism of his government’s management of the economy, especially in terms of creating jobs, and his party’s recent performance in the parliamentary by-elections in Rajasthan, where the BJP lost both seats to the Congress.
Even while accepting some of his criticism of the Congress — such as the one on most bad loans in the banking system having their origin at a time the country was governed by the Congress — other analysts said it might have been better for the prime minister to focus more on his government’s achievements than on history.
Still, even the focus on history was not without its political significance. The reference to Basava, the spiritual progenitor of the Lingayats comes in the context of the chief minister of Karnataka’s Congress government, Siddaramaiah, promising to support the Lingayat demand that they be recognised as a separate caste, distinct from Hinduism. Karnataka goes to the polls later this year. He also spoke about his government’s achievements on the development front in the North-east, where four states go to the polls this year.
Modi accused the Congress of partitioning the country for “petty gains” and maintained that had Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel been the first prime minister, the entire Kashmir would be belonged to India. Patel, a life-long Congressman, was India’s first home minister, but the BJP has sought to take over his legacy — aided, historians admit, by the Congress’s own effort to magnify the role of Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister.
“Our country did not get democracy due to Pandit Nehru, even as Congress wants us to believe. Look at our rich history. There are several examples of vibrant democratic traditions that date back centuries ago. Democracy has always been integral to India. It is a part of our culture,” Modi said.
Modi’s speech comes at the beginning of a year that will see eight assembly elections, including in some important states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka, and ahead of 2019’s parliamentary polls. It also comes against the background of charges by the opposition parties that the prime minister does not respond to major issues, and that his government’s style of functioning isn’t democratic.
Apart from highlighting India’s long-standing tradition of democracy, Modi also questioned the Congress’s own internal democracy.
“Was it an election or coronation for (the post of) Congress president?,” he asked, referring to Rahul Gandhi’s undisputed ascension to the top post in the Congress.
Interestingly, Modi sought to pass on some of the blame for the current political controversy surrounding a package for Andhra Pradesh to the Congress, saying the division of the state (which happened when the UPA was in power) wasn’t done well and further accused the Congress of having traditionally not done justice to the state. He mentioned how the Congress “insulted Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, a proud son of Andhra Pradesh”.
The PM used the speech to highlight how Kerala, Odisha, Karnataka and West Bengal have all claimed to create one crore jobs and said: “Is that not employment? These are not governments run by our party,” in response to criticism over unemployment.
Turning the tables on the Opposition for attacking him over his alleged silence, Modi said, “For the benefit of the nation I maintained silence when you said whatever you wanted. I worked silently but now the time has come for the people to know the truth.