A mix of satire, sarcasm, meaningful research, anecdotes, substantive facts, controlled aggression and masterful oratory was the hallmark of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intervention on motion of thanks on President’s address to Parliament.
His target for the day was Rahul Gandhi and Congress. He never named the Gandhi scion but the satirical references left little room for doubt whom he was aiming at.
Modi had come prepared. Though he was not there in the Lok Sabha Wednesday when Rahul Gandhi delivered his speech, it seemed clear that he had gone through that and had also taken exception to some of the remarks made by the Congress vice-president.
It was to be expected that Modi, a great orator, would be at his eloquent best to counter Rahul’s charges but what perhaps took everyone by surprise was the way the Prime Minister chose a different route to respond to his political rival.
He never took Rahul’s name (though he made several references to Mallikarjun Kharge), never directly referred to the contents of his speech but using Sanskrit slokas, an incident in the USSR during Khrushchev regime and portions of speeches made by leaders whom Rahul Gandhi considers his personal and political idols -- Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee and Somnath Chaterjee – he rebutted each and every charge and drove through his points with consummate ease.
Modi said wisdom never dawns on some people and maturity eludes them even if they advance in age. No prizes for guessing whom the rapier thrust was aimed at.
The Prime Minister also plugged NDA’s achievements for the last one and half years but he did so by turning on its head Congress’s familiar claim that the Prime Minister was merely rehashing UPA’s ideas.
Modi gave quite a few lessons to the Congress vice-president on the functioning of Parliamentary democracy, importance of Parliament as an institution and as a seat of heated debates.
Before one could think that Modi was sermonising the opposition benches, Congress in particular, he quipped: "ye updesh Narendra Modi ka nahi hai, ye Bharat ke purva pradhanmantri Sriman Rajiv Gandhi ka hai" (these sermons are not mine but former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi’s).
Modi, in fact, quoted Rajiv Gandhi twice to taunt at Rahul that "we should listen to our elders". His taking of the departed leaders’ names, each time, was preceded by a loaded pause.
His pet idea for the day was to give a long-winding lecture on unending Congress-sponsored disruptions in Parliament and the key bills it was stalling. He suggested that the real reason behind Congress’s tactics was not simply to stall House proceedings, pass important bills or even to vent opposition’s grievances but because some among the Congress are suffering from “inferiority complex.”
“There are some very bright MPs in Opposition ranks and if they speak, they will be hailed for their knowledge and oratory. That’s why, for some who are suffering from inferiority complex, it’s imperative that nobody should be allowed to seem mightier. Nobody should be allowed to seen brighter. That explains the Parliament obstructions. And when some people speak, they rather entertain the House.” The message was too obvious to be missed.
Modi listed some of the bills which have been stalled by the Congress in Rajya Sabha -- national waterways bill, whistle blowers protection bill, GST, consumer protection bill, insolvency and bankruptcy bill etc.
After listing each bill, he gave a brief description as to whom this could benefit and what kind of service the Opposition was doing to the nation by obstructing its passage. In this context he mentioned Jawaharlal Nehru, Pranab Mukherjee and Somnath Chaterjee, inviting opposition leaders to pass key bills.
Modi was evidently trying to isolate Rahul and Congress from rest of the Opposition. There have been occasions when other Opposition parties and several members of the Congress didn't agree with Rahul's obstructionist strategy.
On Wednesday, Rahul Gandhi had taken potshots at NDA’s Make In India scheme and that obviously didn’t go down too well with the Prime Minister.
“Make in India ka majak uda rahe hain? Ye desh ke liye hai (What’s the point in mocking at Make in India? This scheme will benefit the nation.)
“Even if it does not succeed then everyone should come together and brain storm what should be done to correct the shortcomings and make it a success”, Modi said.
The Prime Minister then went on to make an elaborate statement as to ”I wonder why is it that we paint such an image of our nation, which makes it appear as if we are going around with a begging bowl...”
After a pause, Modi pointed towards Congress and said this statement was from a speech made by Indira Gandhi in 1984. He used same tactic to suggest that even as problems of poverty, backwardness, superstition are dogging the nation, the intelligentsia was critical of changes unleashed by the government. Once again, after delivering the quote, he clarified that it was Indira Gandhi who had said this in 1968.
On Rahul Gandhi’s taunt on MNREGA and allegations that Modi does not consult his senior colleagues while taking decisions, the Prime Minister marshalled out facts, slokas and sarcasm to hit out at the Congress leader.
He gave an elaborate account of why he calls MNREGA “a living monument of Congress’s failure.”
He gave names of schemes and the year of its launch to say that rural employment scheme has been there for past several decades, only their names changed over the years -- Maharastra Rojgar Yojna in 1972, NREP in 1980, JRY in 1989, Employment Insurance Scheme in 1993, Sampporn Gramin Rojgar Yojna in 1998, Food for work in 2004, NREGA and then MNREGA in 2006.
“Aap bolte hain ki Modi kahta hai ki Garibi hatao, par humne (Congress) garibi ki jaden itni jamai hain ki tum (Modi) ukad jaoge kekin garibi nahi hata paoge.
“I am trying hard to fulfil my commitment. I had never imagined that you had made the roots of poverty so strong that I will have utmost difficultly in removing it. Why is it that we need a scheme to dig pits to remove earth and pay money to rural poor? Why has the situation come to such a pass that even skilled labour has to engage in unskilled tasks? That why I call it a living monument of (Congress) failure," Modi said.
Then Modi used two instances where Rahul Gandhi had torn pieces of papers -- an ordinance by the UPA Government at Press Club in New Delhi when Manmohan Singh was getting ready for a summit meeting in Washington with the US President Barack Obama and second, when he torn Samajwadi Party manifesto in a public rally in the run up to the last UP Assembly elections. On both occasions he recited Sanskrit slokas which meant it was easier giving sermons to others but difficult practising those.
The expressions on Rahul and Sonia Gandhi’s faces and the Congress leaders’ stony silence were indications enough that the arrows had hit home.