Charges flew thick and fast and a war of words erupted in Lok Sabha Friday when Congress president Rahul Gandhi, singling out the BJP leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, said they are afraid of losing power because they know that “other processes will start against them” as soon as they are out of office. Leading the Opposition assault during the debate on the motion of no-confidence, Gandhi accused the prime minister of unleashing “jumla strikes” on the people, and of becoming a “bhagidar” (partner) in the Rafale fighter deal instead of acting as the “chowkidar” (watchman) he had promised the country during the 2014 election campaign.
In a nearly 45-minute speech, disrupted repeatedly by BJP members and a brief adjournment once, Gandhi kept his focus on attacking the prime minister. At one point, after talking about the Rafale deal, he said Modi appeared nervous and was unable to look him in the eye. He targeted him over lack of job creation, the Rafale deal, increasing incidents of lynching, atrocities against women, and agrarian distress.
Raking up the Rafale deal, Gandhi said defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman had “spoken untruth” about the secrecy pact between the governments of India and France which prevents New Delhi from divulging the cost of the deal. But hours later, a spokesperson in the French foreign ministry said France had signed a security pact with India in 2008 which legally binds the two countries to protect the classified information which could impact security and operational capabilities of the defence equipment. The official did not, however, clarify whether the provisions of the pact restrict the Indian government to disclose price details of the Rafale deal.
Referring to the business dealings of Amit Shah’s son — the name was expunged from the records following BJP protests — Gandhi said the PM who had called himself “chowkidar” had not uttered a word on reports about it. He said under the fighter aircraft deal that the UPA government had negotiated, one Rafale fighter jet would have cost Rs 520 crore. “But we don’t what happened… who did he speak to. The prime minister went to France… The entire country knows who he went with… and like magic, the price shot up to Rs 1,600 crore per aircraft.”
“The defence minister is sitting here. She had initially said she will disclose to the nation the price of the aircraft. Later, the defence minister clearly said she cannot divulge the details because there is a secrecy pact with France. I met the French president. I asked him is there any such pact between India and France. And the French president told me that there is no such pact between the Indian government and the French government. That is the truth… Nirmala Sitharaman has spoken untruth under pressure from Narendra Modi… Who is being being helped and why… Nirmala Sitharaman and the prime minister must inform the country,” he said.
“Everybody understands the relationship the prime minister has with certain business people… Everybody understands and everybody can see the amount of money that goes into the marketing of India’s prime minister, and everybody understands where it comes from. One of those people was given the Rafale contract and he earned thousands and thousands and thousands of crores. That contract was taken away from HAL. And, the gentleman benefited to the tune of approximately Rs 45,000 crore,” Gandhi alleged.
He sought an explanation from the prime minister on why the contract was taken away from HAL and “given to a businessman who had a debt of Rs 35,000 crore and who has never ever built an aeroplane in his life”. “These are the things that the prime minister of India must explain. He must explain why a businessman has been favoured. I know, I can see he is smiling but there is a touch of nervousness in the gentleman. He is looking away from me. I can understand that. Now, he cannot look into my eyes. I can see that. It is because the prime minister has not been truthful,” he said.
Gandhi said the entire country has understood that “chowkidar nahin hai, bhagidar hai”. At one point, he said the prime minister and the BJP president are two different type of politicians. “They are not like any of us… The difference between all of us and the prime minister and the president of the BJP is that we are okay to lose power… We can see ourselves in power and out of power. For reasons that everybody knows here, they can simply not afford to lose power. Because the moment they lose power, other processes will start against them. So the PM and his president act out of fear and this fear generates anger and it is this anger that the whole of India is feeling. It is this anger that is being transmitted down India that is attempting to crush every voice in India,” he said.
Gandhi said farmers, youths, Dalits, tribals and the women of the country are “victims” of the prime minister’s “jumla strike”. He said the promise to create 2 crore jobs every year, depositing Rs 15 lakh in the bank accounts of every Indian, the recent hike in minimum support price were all “jumla strikes”. According to a survey of the Labour Bureau, only 4 lakh jobs were created in 2016 and 2017, he said.
Accusing Modi of only interacting with 15-20 big businessmen wearing “suit and boot”, he said the feelings of small traders, farmers and the poor do not reach the prime minister. Referring to the controversy over a corporate giant carrying the photograph of the prime minister in full-page advertisements in newspapers for the company’s telecom venture, he said “Those are the forces which help him… There are 10-20 businessmen… He does everything for him. There is no place in his heart for the rest of India, the poor and the marginalised.”
Resuming his speech after a brief adjournment, Gandhi said during the break even members of the BJP told him that he has spoken well. Pointing to Union minister and Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur, he said she smiled at him. “This feeling… It is everywhere in the country and our job is to unite this feeling… I want to tell you that the entire Opposition and many people from your side… Together we are going to defeat the prime minister.”
Gandhi said he does not harbour any ill will or hatred against the BJP. “In fact, I am thankful to the prime minister and the BJP because they have taught me the meaning of Congress… What was it being an Indian… An Indian would have love in his heart to even those who lie about you… attack you… I am thankful to the BJP… You have taught me about my religion… The meaning of Shivji and what it means to be a Hindu… This is the country’s history… You harbour anger against me, hatred against me… I am Pappu for you… Aap mujhe alag alag gaali de sakte hain… but I don’t have a speck of anger, hatred against you… because I am Congress… Congress and this sentiment built this country… You also have the same sentiment… I will bring out those sentiments from inside you,” he said.