Congress's righteous indignation over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'raincoat' jibe at Manmohan Singh would have been amusing had it not been patently tragic. Halfway through Narendra Modi's Rajya Sabha address on Wednesday, members of India's grand old party walked out in a huff.
All through the evening for the next few hours, adopting an expression somewhere between apoplectic rage and stunned disbelief, Congress leaders used the choicest sound bites to lay into Modi, calling him unworthy of PM's post. They also demanded an apology, failing which they threatened to boycott the prime minister in Parliament.
The source of Congress's fury was a remark by Modi during his reply to the motion on the President's address when he made satiric observations on former PM Manmohan Singh's ability to stay unblemished while scams raged all around him.
During Singh's two stints as PM, the UPA was mired in several big-ticket rip-offs costing the public exchequer lakhs of crores. While Singh's personal integrity never came under intense scrutiny, as the head of a Union Cabinet some of whose members were neck-deep in graft, the economist-turned-politician cannot be absolved of all responsibility.
While the former PM managed to keep all taint at arm's length, it is undeniable that Coalgate, 2G spectrum scam, Commonwealth Games scam (just to name a few) happened under his watch and Singh was powerless to stop his underlings from defrauding the public. At the very least, setting a high moral precedence, he could have tendered his resignation in protest but chose not to.
Tearing into Singh, who had during the Winter Session called Prime Minister's demonetisation "monumental mismanagement" and "organized loot and legalized plunder", Modi said the former PM knew "the art of bathing in a bathroom with a raincoat on", a dig at the Teflon coating that shielded Singh from all taint amid widespread corruption and financial scandals.
"In the past 35 years, Dr Singh was directly involved in the decision-making on the country’s economy," said the PM, hinting at Manmohan's earlier stints as RBI governor and Union finance minister in the PV Narasimha Rao cabinet. "Very few people can claim to have influenced our economy at the top level for nearly half of independent India’s history," said Modi, adding that though there were several cases of graft during this period, not a single spot could be found on Singh.
"Bathroom me raincoat pehen kar nahana...Yeh kala to doctor sahab hi jante hain, aur koi nahin janta (taking a bath while wearing a raincoat... only doctor sahab knows this art, none else)," he said.
The Congress staged a walkout in protest and amid a plethora of outraged reactions, Kapil Sibal said the prime minister was arrogant and he had scant regard for the dignity his chair demands. "He should know that he is everybody's PM, including ours."
One wonders at Congress's new-found respect for the PM's chair. It would've been believable but for the fact that on the first day of last year's Winter Session, Congress leader Pramod Tiwari compared the prime minister with dictators and mass murderers, equating demonetisation with history's heinous crimes.
"Kisi shabya desh ne yeh nahi kiya; jisne kiye hain unke naam itihas mein hai, pehla Gaddafi, doosra, Mussolini, Hitler & chautha hai PM Modi," said Tiwari. Compared to this revilement, Sitaram Yechuri's 'Modi Antoinette' jibe was child's play.
It was even more amusing to see Rahul Gandhi jump into the fray to criticize Modi and defend the 'honour' of Manmohan Singh. Calling Modi's comments "shameful", the Congress vice-president said: "When a prime minister reduces himself to ridiculing his predecessor, years his senior, he hurts the dignity of the parliament and the nation." Evidently the nation and the Parliament weren't robbed of their 'dignity' when the Gandhi scion chose to tear apart an ordinance passed by Manmohan-led UPA and that too when the then PM was not in the country. It didn't qualify as "insult to PM" either because no less than the Gandhi scion had done so.
And when one recalls Rahul Gandhi's 'khoon ki dalali' (pimping or brokering) jibe at Modi over surgical strikes, Congress's hypocritical notion of "honour" and "respect for PM's chair" becomes apparent. It can alternate between being the aggressor and the victim in a manner of its own choosing. While it may denigrate the prime minister and call names it reserves the right to take the moral high ground when paid back in same coin.
There is something also to be said about the way Modi treats debates in Parliament. Immediately after Manmohan Singh had derided his move to declassify the high value notes in a scathing Rajya Sabha intervention last year, Narendra Modi walked over to his predecessor and shook hands as Parliament broke for lunch. He was also seen talking, as the NDTV report points out, to rival leaders Anand Sharma and Ghulam Nabi Azad with Arun Jaitley in tow.
In the give and take of Parliamentary barbs, no quarters are given and none are asked for. Modi was at least responding to Singh's criticism. We all remember, though, that the former PM had in January 2014 warned Indians that it would be "disastrous for the country if Modi were to become the PM". That is a below-the-belt attack.
Updated Date: Feb 09, 2017 09:12 AM