Taking exception to Rahul Gandhi’s recent statement in the Lok Sabha that “India is described in the Constitution as a union of states and not as a nation,” and his allegation about “marginalisation” of Tamil Nadu, the PM said at the lower House while responding to the debate on the President’s inaugural address of the Budget session, “Recently, an attempt was made to incite passions in Tamil Nadu. Angrez chale gaye (the British have left), but their policy of divide and rule persists”.
Modi quoted from Vishnu Puran, Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Discovery of India’ and the work of Tamil icon and freedom fighter Subramania Bharti to make the point that the idea of India as a nation had predated the promulgation of the Constitution by centuries.
The PM said Congress has not learnt to be humble and embark on a course correction despite its diminution and its “eco-system” has kept indulging its hubris.
BJP has been targeting Congress for “flirting with the fringe” since Rahul expressed solidarity with a group of students accused of raising “Bharat tere tukde honge, inshaallah”. But the PM’s statement dubbing the main opposition party as the leader of the “tukde tukde” gang marked a marked escalation.
Speaking during the debate, Rahul had said that India is a “Union of States” and that the Constitution makes no mention of “nation”. Accusing the Modi government of imposing its centralising vision in defiance of the country’s diversity, the Congress leader had said that Tamil Nadu was being “excluded” as its demand for exemption from NEET for admissions in medical colleges had not been heeded.
Rahul was not present in the House. But his absence was no deterrent for Modi who, without mentioning names, attacked those engaged in “shoot-and-scoot” politics. He referred to Congress’s shrinking footprint across the country and said the steady decline of influence has not resulted in the need for introspection and humility. Referring to a number of states where Congress has not won elections for many years, in some cases for decades, the PM said: “You have come down to 44. Many states slammed their doors on you long ago. You lost many others more recently, and, at this rate, more are going to slip out of grasp. But there is no end to your hubris … your eco-system would not let you come to terms with the reality,” said Modi in an echo of BJP’s old grouse against pro-Congress bias of a section of the intelligentsia. “It is the same eco-system which goes into an overdrive if we lose one election.”
Modi said Congress has lost the will to win and seems to be resigned to a 100 year-spell in political wilderness.”I will be happy to be here”.
He accused Congress of corruption, saying it is opposed to “Make in India” push for self-reliance in defence and other sectors because that would mean denial of opportunities to make money.
It was a withering attack with the PM sparing all others, except a solitary salvo at Aam Aadmi Party. He accused Congress and AAP of the “sin” of inciting migrant labourers to leave Mumbai and Delhi in droves. “To reduce the load in Delhi, Congress spread panic and provided free tickets to the migrant labourers to send them to UP and Bihar. AAP sent jeeps with loudspeakers to localities stoking fear among the migrant labourers and provided buses to dump them at Delhi borders,” said the PM as he spoke of the attempts to damage his image.
He also attacked claims Rahul had made. Referring to the Congress leader’s assertion that UPA had lifted 27 crore people out of poverty, Modi said the opposition leader was guilty of sleight of hand. “You had promised to eradicate poverty since 1971, but have not kept the promise. You would have not lost the election if you had really pulled that many people out of poverty,” Modi said.
The PM tore into Congress over the party’s criticism of his government’s handling of inflation. He said the criticism does not factor in the international context which Nehru invoked in the 50’s to attribute the rise in inflation to the Korean War. The PM further referred to P Chidambaram’s attacks on the government through his weekly newspaper column and said the former finance minister, while in office, had maintained that he had no magic lamp to solve the problem of inflation. “In contrast we, even during the crisis caused by the virus, have worked hard to check inflation. Inflation during your last five years remained in double digit. But we have kept it at 5.2 %, and the rate of price rise for food prices is just 3%,” he said.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury protested against the PM’s remarks and sought to interrupt him. Modi, however, did not let that affect his focus. In fact, he sought to blunt Chowdhury by suggesting that he was only trying to save his job as the leader of the Congress group. “You have done enough to save your job. They are not going to remove you at least during this session,” Modi said.
Others in the opposition were spared and did not feel the need to come to Congress’ rescue. On one occasion when Trinamool veteran Saugata Roy tried to join the fray, Modi managed to keep him out of the ring by praising his spirit despite advancing years and saying that he would be pleased by what he was going to say next.