A bit of sarcasm, some gravitas, quoting Congress leaders to stump the Congress.
That’s how Prime Minister Narendra Modi hit back at the Opposition while replying to the motion of thanks to the President’s address to Parliament.
Modi invoked former prime ministers from the Congress, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Rajiv Gandhi, to urge the Opposition, chiefly the Congress, to let Parliament function “peacefully and responsibly”.
On International Women’s Day, March 8, he suggested that only women MPs be allowed to speak in Parliament.
And to encourage newly-minted MPs and to ‘let in fresh ideas,’ a few days be devoted to only first-time members of the House. Although there were jibes plenty at the Opposition, he ended his one hour, 10-minute speech on a conciliatory note, appealing to the House to work together for the collective good.
Watch the PM's speech HERE
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to the Opposition, saying he needs their support for “improvement” in his government, even as he attacked the Congress over disruptions in Parliament while skipping the raging issues like Jawaharlal Nehru University and Dalit student’s suicide.
Modi, speaking in the Lok Sabha, used wit and barbs as he responded to the attack by Congress over various initiatives of his government, including ‘Make in India’ and MNREGA.
Slamming the Congress for disrupting Parliament and stalling bills, he said the main Opposition party was doing so because of “inferiority complex” of its top leaders. He also invoked the statements made by Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and first President Rajendra Prasad by reading out their statements against stalling of legislative business.
He deplored the ‘tu tu, mai mai’ (blame game) attitude by political parties for “scoring points”, saying the officialdom rejoices over this and nation suffers.
“This government also needs improvement which cannot happen without your help. I am new, you are experienced. I need the benefit of your experience. Governments will come and go. Let us work shoulder to shoulder,” Modi said while replying to a debate on Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address which was approved later.
He said a democratic country like India cannot be left at the mercy of the bureaucracy as he sought to underline the importance of the Legislature, saying even a single MP of any party should be treated like “prime minister”.
In his 75-minute speech, Modi, however, did not respond to the specific issues raised by Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders, like his visit to Pakistan, black money, JNU and Dalit student Rohith Vemula’s suicide.
Without naming Rahul Gandhi, the prime minister appeared to be responding to his Wednesday’s remark that he should listen to others.
“It is easy to preach others… There are some people to whom all kinds of questions are asked. But there are some others, to whom nobody dares to ask questions,” he said.
“I have been questioned, I have faced criticism and accusations over the last 14 years. I have learnt to live with it,” said Modi, apparently referring to the attacks on him in the aftermath of Gujarat riots of 2002.
While hitting out at Rahul for criticising his government, he sarcastically recalled how the Congress vice president had torn at a press conference an Ordinance approved by the Cabinet headed by Manmohan Singh and including veterans like A K Antony, Sharad Pawar and Farooq Abdullah.
He also took on Rahul for mocking the government’s ambitious ‘Make in India’ programme, questioning whether such a scheme should be made fun of. “You are mocking at ‘Make in India’? If it is not successful, you should suggest what should be done to make it successful,” he said.
Referring to disruptions in Parliament due to which several bills, including the crucial GST legislation is stuck, Modi said “House is not allowed to function due to inferiority complex (of the opposition leadership).”
While elaborating, he appeared to suggest that top Congress leadership was not allowing “young” and “bright” leaders to emerge fearing that they may overshadow Rahul.
“In the Opposition there are bright and talented youngsters who don’t get a chance to speak...They lot of study... The concern is that if they speak, they will be praised. Then what will happen to us,” Modi said.
While talking of disruptions in Parliament, the PM again appeared to take a swipe at Congress, saying the opposition’s attitude was to “demonstrate its strength” even though its “strength may be less”.
Congress has only 45 members in the 545-member Lok Sabha.
Invoking Rajiv Gandhi over disruptions, Modi read out a statement made by the former PM in which he had expressed “pain” over stalling of Parliament and said that while it hurts the government, it equally hurts the members of the Opposition who want to raise issues of their concern.
He said because of the will of Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, some bills were passed in Lok Sabha but those could not move ahead, suggesting that they got stuck in Rajya Sabha.
Identifying some of these legislations, he said the Whistleblowers Protection Amendment bill is meant for enlightening the citizens and “I see no reason why it is stopped.”
With regard to GST, which is aimed at overhauling the taxation system in the country, Modi told the Congress, “it is yours only, still it is being stopped.”
While talking about attempts to “halt” development of the country by the Opposition, he cited a statement made by Indira Gandhi in 1974 in which she had wondered why some people try to portray the image of the country in such a manner as if India is standing with a begging bowl.
When Congress member Kantilal Bhuria said that there is a “gap between what you say and what you do”, Modi said, “I have got several certificates during the last 14 years, let there be one more. I accept it with bowed head.”
Taking on the Congress for mocking at his ambitious project of constructing toilets, the PM sarcastically said that if this task had been accomplished earlier, he would not have had to do it.
Similarly, he referred to the Bangladesh border dispute which was settled after four decades and told Congress benches, “You can say that ‘if we had settled it, how would you do it’. You may say that ‘We left it for you to do’.”
He said 18,000 villages were in darkness due to unsettled boundary even so many years after Independence and this was the Congress’ “gift” which “we do not deny”.
Responding to Congress’s contention that MNREGA was the baby of previous United Progressive Alliance government and that the National Democratic Alliance regime had repackaged and usurped it, Modi dwelt into the history and said such a programme had first been initiated in Maharashtra in 1972.
He said such schemes for the poor have been going on for decades under various names and in different versions and that once Jawaharlal Nehru’s name was “removed by same party which curses us”.
On Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge’s charge about corruption in MNREGA, the PM said, “I agree 1,000 per cent” and went on to suggest that it was during the tenure of previous UPA government.
He said the Comptroller Auditor General had said in its report of 2012 pointed out how corruption was linked to MNREGA. “We have tried to learn something from that. We are trying to make it foolproof and ensure that targeted people get benefits,” he added.
CAG has said MNREGA has not reached most of the places inhabited by the poor, Modi said, adding his government has linked it to Jandhan and other schemes and “hopefully we will be able to eliminate the middlemen”.
While Modi was speaking, Rahul was seen leaving the House, prompting BJP benches to take a dig at the Congress leader. Rahul, who was yet to reach the exit gate, returned to his seat and then again went back and left.
As BJP members were making some comments against Rahul, Modi told them to desist from that.
Modi, while training guns at the Congress, also slammed the opposition party over poverty.
“You (Congress) boldly say that during elections I had promised to rid the country of poverty. But you have made poverty so deep-rooted that it is so difficult to uproot it...
You must be saying ‘Modi, you yourself will be uprooted but poverty will not go’.. Still, we are making efforts,” he said.
“To uproot poverty, a lot of efforts need to be made.... I realised how deep-rooted poverty is only when I came here (after becoming prime minister),” Modi said.
Asking Congress to accept that it has brought the country to such a pass, Modi said had there been no poverty, there would have been no need for MNREGA.
While taking on Congress, he said it was suffering from a “feeling of jealousy” as it is concerned as to why the NDA government is doing “well”. He said Congress is worried that ‘What we could not do in 60 years, how could you do it?’
He drew comparisons of the performance of his government with the UPA governments, particularly in the context of constructing roads and implementation of MNREGA.
“I invite intellectuals to do study of Atalji’s Gram Sadak Yojana and MNREGA,” Modi said.
Talking about Food Security Act brought by the UPA, he said it had not been implemented by four Congress-ruled states, including poll-bound Kerala.
“You enjoy talking Gujarat.... Your own government in Kerala has not implemented it. You are going to polls there with full force. People will ask why your government did not implement FSA,” he said.
About the recently-launched Crop Insurance Scheme, Modi said it will come into force in all states from April 1, this year.
Among the digs he took at Congress, the PM said, “I can’t say I started Rail. You can say that. You can say anything. But we do not have the courage to do so.”
Modi said his government had shown how work can be done with the same bureaucracy and same rules. “I can show in all sectors,” he said.
“India is a democratic nation. In public life we all are answerable. But some are not answerable. What they do, I have seen,” the PM said.
Apparently responding to allegations of disallowing dissent, he narrated an anecdote related to President Nikita Krushchev of erstwhile Soviet Union.
“After Stalin died, Krushchev would criticise him wherever he went. At one meeting, Krushchev was criticising Stalin and one youth said, ‘you have worked with Stalin, then why are you criticising him now?... Krushchev replied, ‘I wished to do the same in Stalin era but could not. You can do it. Got the answer?”
He told Kharge that some in Opposition would understand his reply while for some even having almonds will not help. The reference to almonds was made by him possibly because this dry fruit is believed to help in making brain sharp.
Modi, who noted that he was a first-time MP, praised Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh, saying the similarity between him and the “veteran leader” is that they both like Lohia.
He said the respect for the political class had gone down as he recalled his childhood days when he would see how even an MLA of his village commanded respect and the entire officialdom would be under an awe.
“I know because I would try to give tea to him,” he said.
“Where have we taken our democratic system? No officer is afraid of politicians now. This is not about you or us but lowering of respect for the political class,” Modi said, adding “For officials, an MP should not be less than PM.”
“We can engage in ‘tu tu, mai mai’ (blame game). You may curse me and I may curse you but officials celebrate. By doing ‘Tu tu, mai mai’, we may be scoring points but at the end, the accountability of the bureaucracy ends. Our government may come or go but the accountability of the bureaucracy has to be there.
“You blame me and I blame you... But how to improve accountability of the Executive. This is a challenge before us. We have to make a collective effort. I don’t blame anybody,” he said.
“In a democratic country like India, we cannot leave it to officialdom. We have to trust 125 crore people. Our citizens do not ask for more. They are ready to move with the government. We have taken steps in this,” he said.
He said his government had taken some measures for the benefit of the common people by trusting them, like ending the requirement of interview for certain government jobs and doing away with the need for attestations.