Mr Gandhi’s move to embrace the Prime Minister did not go down well with the ruling benches.
New Delhi: The no-confidence motion moved by the Telegu Desam Party demanding special category status for Andhra Pradesh virtually ended up being a Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi show. It was the clash between a master orator and his challenger for the battle royale in 2019.
After a fierce attack on the government, saying that the country was reeling under BJP’s “jumla strike”, Congress president, Rahul Gandhi stunned all as he strode past the Lok Sabha Speaker’s chair, walked over to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s seat, and gave him a bear hug. Mr Gandhi then returned to his seat and announced, “This is the meaning of Hindutva.” Mr Gandhi followed up his hugging by a wink at his fellow Congress lawmakers.
Prime Minister Mr Modi, who was somewhat taken aback by the sudden embrace and did not stand up to reciprocate the gesture, described Mr Gandhi’s bear hug in his characteristic style as the Congress president’s rush to replace him.
Mimicking Mr Gandhi bending down to hug him, Mr Modi gestured, “Jisko yahan baithne ki jaldi hain, woh yahan aye aur bolne lage utho utho (The person who wanted to reach where I am is in a hurry and gestured at me to get up, get up),” he said.
Mr Gandhi’s move to embrace the Prime Minister did not go down well with the ruling benches. The gesture also upset Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, who felt that hugging the Prime Minister inside Lok Sabha was against the “decorum of the House”.
Home minister Singh ridiculed the Congress president’s act saying, “House ke andar chipko movement shuru ho gaya hain (Chipko movement has started inside the House).” While Congress leaders rose to oppose the Speaker’s observation, Ms Mahajan said that she was “like a mother to Rahul Gandhi and it was a mother’s duty to point weaknesses of her child”.
The Speaker also did not approve of the “natak (drama)” and “aankh jhamkana (wink).”
The Prime Minister, who used the opportunity to kick-start his 2019 campaign subtly played the victim card and claimed that a campaign had been launched to remove him. “Modi hatao, Modi hatao, yeh hi woh chahate hain,” he said pointing at the Opposition. As the Prime Minister rose to address the House and began recounting his government’s achievements and maintained that this was not the floor test of his government but that of the rivals, the Opposition members were up on their feet shouting “We want justice”. Raising his voice over the din, Mr Modi continued speaking and reiterated his government’s mantra —“Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”.
However, sloganeering continued throughout Mr Modi’s speech. Trying to counter the Opposition’s move to heckle the Prime Minister, the ruling benches occasionally launched into the chant of “Modi Modi”.
Earlier, Mr Gandhi accused the Prime Minister of “failing the nation”, maintaining a stoic silence over “lynchings, atrocities on women and killing of dalits and minorities” and claimed that the “nervous Prime Minister did not have the courage to look into his eyes”. Replying to the charge, Mr Modi again played the victim card and, in his inimitable style, said, “True, how can I, a poor man’s son, born in a backward community, dare to look into his eyes.”
He tried to paint the Congress as an authoritarian outfit and shared examples on the the fate of those who dared to look into the “dynasty’s eyes”.
“What happened to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Sardar Patel, Chandrashekhar, Pranab Mukherjee, Sharad Pawar, among others, who dared to look into your eyes. You humiliated them,” Mr Modi said.
Aware that he was up against master orator Modi, Mr Gandhi took his time to articulate his arguments and charges. Hinting that law could catch up with them, Mr Gandhi claimed that the Mr Modi and the BJP president “cannot afford to lose power because if they do other process will start”. Mr Gandhi who targeted the Sangh Parivar said that he was “indebted to the BJP and the RSS as they taught me the meaning of how to be Hindustani, you taught me the meaning of being Hindu”.
The Congress president then indulged in a bit of self-deprecation as he said, “Aap mujhe Pappu aur bohot gaaliyan dekar bula sakte hain, lekin mere andar aapke liye nafrat nahi hai (You have hatred for me, you can call me Pappu and abuse me, but I don’t hate you).”
As Mr Gandhi listed out the failures of the government and claimed that the country was suffering from “jumla strike” of fake promises and assurances given by the Prime Minister, known for his rhetorics, Mr Modi tried to turn the tables on him by claiming that Mr Gandhi had insulted the Indian Army as he described surgical strike as “jumla strikes”.
Appearing somewhat hurt and angry, Mr Modi tacitly played the nationalist card as he lashed out, “How dare you call surgical strikes as jumla strikes. It’s an insult to the Army. If you want to abuse and criticise, I am here. Abuse me but not surgical strikes.”
Earlier, there was a brief adjournment as the ruling BJP leaders were up on their feet when Mr Gandhi virtually accused defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman of “lying” to the nation on the Rafael deal and questioned the Prime Minister’s claim of being a “chowkidaar” of the country following the controversy over BJP chief, Mr Amit Shah’s son.
“He (Modi) said he is India’s chowkidaar. But when Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah increases his income, he doesnot say a word,” Mr Gandhi lashed out. He said that the Prime Minister was “not a chowkidar but a bhagidaar” (shareholder).
Replying to the accusation, the Prime Minister said, “I am a chowkidar and also a bhagidaar in the sorrows and the dreams of 125 crore people.” And then came the sting, “Mein apki tarha saudegar nahi hun, (I am not a trader like you).”
The Prime Minister also attacked, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi who had claimed that the Opposition had the numbers to defeat the government in the no-confidence motion. Calling her “arrogant”, the Prime Minister mimicked her saying that he remembered the last time a no-confidence motion was passed in 2001. “You said you would get 272 votes,” he observed.
To counter Mr Gandhi’s accusation that the government had ignored the poor and farmers, Mr Modi said that the Congress “is an expert at blackmailing the poor, downtrodden and oppressed Those who misused Article 356 to destabilise several times are teaching democracy to us.” While Mr Gandhi joined the TDP in extending support to the no-trust move, Mr Modi speaking on the Andhra Pradesh special package issue claimed that his government gave to Andhra more than what a special status category state deserves.