Amit Shah's first Rajya Sabha address marked by sharp punches against Congress leadership past and present

On Monday morning, there was a general sense of anticipation among BJP MPs over the news that Amit Shah was going to deliver his maiden speech in Parliament in the afternoon.

The BJP president was elected to the Rajya Sabha in August 2017, in the intervening period between the Monsoon Session and the Winter Session of Parliament. However, he took his own sweet time to make his mark as a parliamentarian. He was perhaps looking for right occasion. There could be no better occasion for him than to initiate the debate on 'motion of thanks to the President’s address’ on behalf of the ruling BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and most ministers were present in the Rajya Sabha when Shah delivered his speech.

The general curiosity over Amit Shah’s speech within the ranks of the BJP and outside was over two aspects. The first aspect was the manner in which he would enumerate the achievements of the Modi government and launch an attack on the Opposition, particularly on former finance minister P Chidambaram’s statement comparing pakoda sellers to beggars. The second aspect was how he would stand as a parliamentarian on his debut. Remember, there is a tradition in Parliament that maiden speeches of members are not interrupted. Shah, on his part, didn’t disappoint his supporters. His speech was also the first post-Budget speech in Parliament by any leader of the ruling party, and thus it assumed additional significance.

Shah was not overtly aggressive against the Congress, as it was an occasion where he was expected to talk more about why the president needed to be thanked for detailing what good things the government of the day is doing. However, he did mix this aspect with sharp punches against the Congress brass, present and past.

File image of BJP president Amit Shah. PTI

File image of BJP president Amit Shah. PTI

He compared the 55 years of dynastic rule of the Nehru-Gandhi family to the three-and-half years of Modi rule. "Despite the nation being ruled by one family for 55 out of 70 years of independent India, 60 percent of the Indian population didn’t have a bank account. One family ruled for 55 years, and yet you are asking us, who have been in government for eight years (including the six years under Atal Bihari Vajpayee) now why there is unemployment in the country."

Shah knew that his audience wanted to hear specific names and specific issues. He trained his guns first at Indira Gandhi and then moved on to Rahul Gandhi and his team (including the likes of P Chidambaram).

He said that Indira Gandhi did a good thing by nationalising banks. "It was said that nationalisation of banks would open the doors of banks for poor people, but the announcement was not followed up with action. The nation had to wait for the advent of Modi at the Centre and the initiation of the Jan-Dhan scheme. In this scheme, over 31 crore new zero balance accounts for the poor were opened in banks and over 73,000 crore rupees were deposited," he said. Shah also stated that loans to the tune of around Rs 4,00,000 crore were disbursed through the MUDRA scheme to over one crore small and micro entrepreneurs, 75 percent of whom were women.

Referring to Indira Gandhi’s “garibi hatao” pre-poll slogan of 1971, albeit without naming her, Shah said that there were persons who came to power with the slogan but did not do anything to walk the talk.

His most bitter comment was reserved for Chidambaram’s tweet comparing pakoda sellers to beggars and Rahul Gandhi’s statement referring to GST as “Gabbar Singh Tax.” By responding to these comments, he was also responding to the angst BJP leaders and workers had against these remarks by Congress leaders. He contended that it should be a matter of shame for those who were making that comparison, that too at a time when a chaiwala has made it to the prime minister’s post.

By taking on Modi’s statement citing a “pakodawala” as an example of creation of employment opportunities through the Mudra scheme, Chidambaram had touched a raw nerve among BJP leaders, and also of others outside the political spectrum.

After the presentation of the annual budget, Chidambaram had tweeted:

Responding to Chidambaram’s comment, minister of state MJ Akbar wrote in an article: “It requires deep reserves of contempt for the poor to dismiss a man who sells savories on the roadside as nothing more than a beggar. The political leader who made such an instinctively disparaging comparison is a stalwart of the Congress party, former finance minister P Chidambaram. The anonymous seller of pakodas from a street-side stall, Mr Chidambaram, does not beg for favours; he makes an honest living in difficult circumstances with more dignity and character than those who sneer at him. He is a symbol of aspiration and determination. It was entirely characteristic of the Congress to hand over its response to the breakthrough 2018-2019 Budget, a milestone moment in the war against poverty, to a former finance minister who has no sympathy for those who suffer in the bleak despair of impoverishment.”

Rahul Gandhi had referred to GST as Gabbar Singh Tax during the Gujarat election campaign. However, the issue still seems to agitate Amit Shah’s mind. The character of Gabbar Singh from the movie 'Sholay' was a dacoit in a Hindi movie and Rahul Gandhi referred GST by that name. GST is a legitimate new tax regime passed by Parliament, ratified by states and has come into force after a unanimous decision of the GST Council. Shah said, “You are provoking people not to pay taxes… this in no way is good politics.”

Shah was aware that the business community would be hearing his words and needed reassurance. Therefore, he first admitted that there were some problems in the implementation of GST and the government was conscious of them. He stated that some corrective measures have been taken and more are coming. However, he accused the Congress of speaking in three voices — one inside the GST Council, another in Parliament and yet another in public meetings.


Updated Date: Feb 06, 2018 07:39 AM

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