Despite their depleted numbers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday extended an olive branch to the opposition, saying he would take them along in decision-making and would work for development of all sections, including Muslims.
Making his first speech in both the Houses of Parliament, he said victory teaches many lessons and that he welcomed criticism so that his government can be "saved from becoming arrogant".
"Forget the bitterness of the past. We have to work together for the development of the country. "We can bring about change. I don't want to move forward without you (opposition). I don't have to move forward on the basis of numbers but on the basis of collective decision-making. If necessary, we will move forward with your guidance," Modi said in his reply to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President's address in both the Houses.
After his reply, the motion was adopted unanimously. In his hour-long speech in the Lok Sabha heard in rapt attention, the prime minister rejected the Opposition's charge that the Bharatiya Janata Party had become arrogant after the landslide victory in the Lok Sabha elections.
Modi, a newcomer to Parliament, acknowledged the fact and said he would like to be guided by seniors even from the opposition and asked them to forgive any wrong words he may use.
But at the same time he did not fail to take a dig at Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the main opposition party, Congress, who had invoked Mahabharata to remind the BJP such as Pandavas Congress would come back to power.
"As Mahabharata was mentioned here (Lok Sabha) on Tuesday, I am reminded of Duryodhana who said he knew dharma and truth but did not have the inclination to follow that. Likewise, they (Congress) also knew what was the right thing to do but they did not do it. We will do it," he said amid thumping of desks by Treasury benches.
Reaching out to the minorities, he referred to the apprehensions expressed by some members over their fate and said his government would work for the development of Muslims.
"I believe if one organ of the body remains weak, can the whole be called healthy? We are committed to this (progress of minorities). We don't see it as appeasement," he said.
Modi said political parties should now go beyond victory and defeat and take the right lessons from the verdict. "Victory gives lessons and we must learn. It teaches us humility," he said and gave an assurance that he would take the "blessings of seniors" so that "we are saved from becoming arrogant".
Underlining that decisions have to be taken with great courage, Modi made it clear that he would not be discouraged by criticism. "We welcome criticism. The more the criticism, the better it is... It is for the welfare of the country...In a democracy, criticism gives strength and it will guide us."
The prime minister also touched upon a topic which was his favourite theme in his election speeches when he referred to criminal cases against elected representatives and the need to expedite trial in them so that guilty can be punished and the innocent protected.
"There should be fear of the law," he said, adding quick decisions in such cases will obviate the need for filing of affidavits by candidates who have to fill up details such as criminal cases pending against them whether they are genuine or false.
Referring to the Congress criticism of the slogan 'Ek Bharat, shreshtha Bharat' in the President's address, he said India was a land of unity in diversity and the idea behind it was the people and parties should shed the language of division and adopt language of unity.
The prime minister talked about his "dreams" of ensuring the country's progress and converting the image from "scam India" to "skills India" through "cooperative federalism".
He specifically mentioned his ideas about improving the agriculture and infrastructure sectors and for which best practices of any state would be adopted. He said the foremost priority of his government would be uplift of the poor and ensuring that nobody is without a house with water, electricity and toilet by 2022, when the country celebrates 75th year of Independence.
Invoking Mahatma Gandhi repeatedly, Modi said, "Let us dream and make effort to fulfill those dreams. There will be difficulties but with your (opposition) cooperation we will move forward."
Modi also had some assuring words for the states as he said, "We don't believe in big brother attitude (towards states). We believe in Cooperative Federalism."
While talking about "musalman bhai", he said his government would have a "focused activity" to change their lives as they cannot be left behind in development.
He took a dig at those questioning how the agenda outlined in the President's address would be implemented, saying it was "natural" for people to be apprehensive after "an atmosphere of despair" for so many years. The prime minister said he had faced similar questions and apprehensions even when he first became the chief minister of Gujarat in 2001 but he had shown them that it can be done.
"We will leave no stone unturned in implementing the road map outlined by the President," he said, underlining that the President's address has a lot of sanctity.
Referring to the big mandate his party got in the elections, he said the government is the "custodian of people's hope" and has the responsibility to deliver. "Chhoti moti nok jhonk to hoti hi hai (small exchanges do occur in Parliament between government and opposition)," he said but added that he will carry all parties along in taking the country forward.
The prime minister said several sections of the country have been left behind in development. "I am not alleging that no government tried to bring change in the lives of backward classes, tribals, etc. Money was spent but still there is no change," he said, adding this has to be changed.
"By 2022, we should do one task. There should be nobody in the country who does not have a house with water, electricity, toilet. This is the minimum task we should do.
"If we make programme for 8-9 years, remembering freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh and Rajguru, we can provide house to all. If we can do this if we have commitment," he said.
Referring to recent incidents of rape in Uttar Pradesh, including Badaun, he said strong actions should be taken to stop violence against them. "For whom should the government be? For educated people or few others. The government should be for the poor. If rich want to educate their children, they can send anywhere. If rich fall ill, hundreds of doctors at service.
"So the foremost responsibility of the government should be to listen to the poor and work for them. If we do not work for the poor, the people will never pardon us," Modi said. Talking about his idea of alleviating poverty, he said his government would empower the poor so that they can fight against poverty and come out of it.
"The biggest weapon is education, end to blind faith. If we succeed in bringing poor out of poverty, then they will not be dependent on anyone," he said. Mentioning his idea about development of rural areas, he said there should be focus on improving agriculture sector through application of science and research.
He also expressed commitment to provide 24-hour electricity to villages, internet connectivity and other facilities so that the youth get education as well as employment there and have no reason to leave their homes.
In this context, he cited Sikkim as an example. Talking about agriculture, Modi said his government in Gujarat had taken the initiative of 'soil health card' to ascertain the right crop for a particular kind of soil and the quantity of fertilizer and water required.
The same could be done at the national level, the prime minister said. Regretted that research in agriculture remained in "lab and does not come to land", he said, "If we do small experiments, we can change."
He also talked about the use of IT in governance while ruing that the country is not able to utilise it appropriately despite being a world leader. Fifty-two members of the Lok Sabha participated in the debate that took place over 12 hours. 48 members submitted their speeches in writing.
Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi replies during the discussion on President's address in Lok Sabha in New Delhi. Photograph: PTI Photo