In a no-holds-barred attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said people are now heard saying the country's 'watchman' is a 'thief'.
Gandhi's remark at a public meeting provoked a strong reaction from the Bharatiya Janata Party, with Union minister Smriti Irani calling him the 'clown prince' who had no respect for the prime minister's post.
Gandhi was referring to prime minister's 'silence' on Rafale fighter aircraft deal with France and the Modi government's 'failure' to bring fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya to book.
He said he had asked questions on this in Parliament but got no reply, and took a jibe at Modi's past assertions on tackling corruption. Modi had said he did not want to become the country's prime minister, but its ‘chowkidar' (watchman), Gandhi recalled.
He added now it is heard on the streets that the country's 'chowkidar' is a thief.
"Galli galli mein shor hai, Hindustan ka chowkidar chor hai," he said in Hindi at a rally in tribal-dominated Sagwara.
He said this is what the people in Rajasthan and elsewhere in the country felt.
Assembly elections will be held in the state later this year, shortly ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
Gandhi said people are disappointed with the BJP governments at the Centre and in Rajasthan and the Congress is now set to win.
"Neither the prime minister and the chief minister, nor their money can stop the change of government in Rajasthan," he said.
Referring to a recent row, Gandhi claimed Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had 'admitted' that Vijay Mallya met him before leaving the country.
"The finance minister allowed Vijay Mallya who defrauded banks to tune of Rs 9,000 crore to leave the country but the prime minister did not break his silence," he said.
Mentioning Modi's monthly radio talk, he said the prime minister speaks his 'mann ki baat' in all his speeches but the Congress wants to hear what the people say.
The Congress chief said the promise to provide employment to two crore youths every year and the Make In India campaign had failed as phones, shoes and clothes carried the Made In China tag.
Gandhi claimed only 450 youths get employment in the country each day while China created jobs for 50,000 people every 24 hours.
He alleged an amount of Rs 2,30,000 crore has been 'written off' as bad loan to 15 or 20 big industrialists, but the government has not helped debt-ridden farmers.
"We will make the people of the state secure and focus on providing employment. We want mobile phones with Made in Rajasthan tag," he said.
Gandhi tried to allay speculation over rifts in the state unit of the party by referring to a motorcycle ride that Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot and former chief minister Ashok Gehlot took together.
The Congress is yet to announce its CM candidate in Rajasthan, unlike the BJP which has said Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje will be nominated again.
The Congress president assured that party workers will decide on the candidates in the coming election.
"I can guarantee you that this time not a single parachute candidate will be able to get the ticket. If any such candidate comes, I will cut the rope," he said.
He also asked senior Congress leader Avinash Pandey to find women faces to represent the party.
Gandhi suggested that the BJP was using money from the state exchequer on its campaign meetings.
"You should know that the posters that you see of the prime minister and the chief minister were made with your money," he said.
Gandhi said the demonetisation of high-currency bank notes and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which he called the ‘Gabbar Singh Tax', broke the back of common people and the small businessman.
"We had proposed a one country, one tax system but the prime minister levied a multiple-layer tax system. The Congress government will change it to a single-layer tax system, if voted to power," he said.