Posted by: John Elliott | July 21, 2018

Rahul Gandhi sets love versus hate as the theme for attack on Modi and the BJP

Impact reduced by a wink after he hugs Modi in parliament

Modi responds with a long list of government achievements

Mystery deepens on price of Franch Rafale jets

Rahul Gandhi made the most impressive speech of his parliamentary career during a no-confidence motion debate in the Indian parliament today (July 20), but diverted the serious impact by winking at a fellow Congress MP and laughing after he had astonished the house by breaking convention and crossing the floor to hug Narendra Modi.

He hit at key negative points in the government’s record ranging from the plight of farmers and broken promises made to them and others, to a spate of countrywide lynchings. He also criticised Modi’s handling of relations with China and alleged corruption on both a French Rafale fighter jet contract and the business activities of the son of Amit Shah, Modi’s henchman and president of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

IMG_0972

This was a powerful condemnation of Modi’s leadership and it built up Gandhi’s reputation as a serious politician, but his theatricals (picture above and below) at the end enabled government supporters to condemn him for a “comedy show”. The BJP tweeted: “We cannot thank you enough for the entertainment!”

The impression that Gandhi created is important because he needs, at the age of 47, to be taken seriously as a politician and potential prime minister now that he has taken over from his mother Sonia as the Congress president.

No-one yet knows who will lead the opposition in the general election that is due in nine months’ time. There are attempts to unite the opposition, which comprises mostly regional parties plus the communist CPI(M), but there is no apparent leader. Gandhi has little visible support outside his own party, though he has said he would be ready to become prime minister if Congress (improbably) wins the most votes. This indicated he would not follow the lead of his mother, who passed the job to Manmohan Singh in 2004.

IMG_0976The no-confidence motion was tabled by the Telegu Desam Party (TDP), an Andhra Pradesh regional party, that recently broke away from the BJP’s coalition because the government has not delivered on an election promise to give the state special development-enhancing status. (The BJP’s second largest coalition ally, the Maharashtra-based ultra nationalist Shiv Sena, significantly did not support the government and abstained from voting).

Andhra’s development issues were lost in what eventually became a Gandhi versus Modi contest, with Modi making a long 90-minute uninspiring speech attacking the Gandhi dynasty and Congress, and listing the government’s claimed achievements.

The government won the vote by an expected large margin – 325 votes against 126 – but the opposition succeeded in staging the high profile debate, with Congress projecting Rahul Gandhi as the potential leader

Most of Gandhi’s speech, which lasted for more than an hour, was in Hindi, but he dramatically switched to English when he said that Modi and Shah could “not afford to lose power because if they did, many forces will turn against them”. They therefore acted “out of fear and that fear causes anger”. The whole of the country felt that anger as they tried “to silence every voice in India”.

This direct attack on the ethics and behaviour of the country’s two most powerful politicians echoed the view of critics who say that the BJP is running a harsh regime aimed at turning India into a primarily Hindu nation while, at the same time, refusing to criticise growing mob violence and killings.

Twenty-seven people have reportedly been killed in the past two months in lynchings linked to vigilantism whipped up by WhatsApp fake rumours, some over cow slaughter and others over suspected child abductions. Modi, said Gandhi, had failed to condemn the lynchings.

mj74qf8o_pm-modi-laughing-no-confidence-pti-650_625x300_20_July_18Criticising Modi’s record on stemming corruption, which the prime minister portrays as a major success area, Gandhi said that Modi worked for “10-20 big businessmen” and had “no place in the heart for weak people”.

In an attack at Amit Shah’s son, Jay Shah, he said that “Modi’s friend’s son’s property has increased 1600 times” since the election and asked why Modi had been silent despite widespread media allegations.

He then accused Nirmala Sitharaman, the defence minister, of “speaking untruth” in parliament when she said that the terms of a contract for 36 Rafale fighter jets was confidential, so she could not reveal the price.

The deal was struck by Modi on a visit to Paris in April 2015, when his accompanying businessmen included Anil Ambani, head of one of India’s two Reliance groups, who has a stake in defence manufacturing and stands to benefit from the deal. Congress alleges that the contract, which was finalised on a government-to-government basis without open tendering, was corrupt and it wants the price revealed. Gandhi said that French president Emmanuel Macron had told him he had “no issues in making the cost public”.

Secrecy on Rafale deal

Sitharaman then made a statement in parliament during Gandhi’s speech and produced documents that she said proved the need for secrecy. The allegation had clearly rattled the government because, presumably at Sitharaman’s request, the French embassy in Delhi later issued a statement saying the two countries were bound to “protect the classified information….that could impact security and operational capabilities of the defence equipment”. That statement however did not seem to include the price of the aircraft.

Returning at the end of his speech to Modi’s style and Hindu nationalism, Gandhi said, “You can abuse me, you can call me Pappu (dumb kid), but I don’t have a speck of hatred against you. I will take out this hatred out of you and turn it into love. I am the Congress…. to be a Hindustani, to be a Hindu, means to love somebody even if they attack you.”

He then walked quickly across and embraced Modi, who is known for bear-hugging other country’s leaders. Initially visibly startled, Modi then caught Gandhi’s sleeve as he walked away and spoke to him, patting his back.

Gandhi had successfully made his point, and maybe had indicated that Congress’s main plank for the coming general election will be that India and Hinduism means love not hate.

He spoilt the moment when, back in his seat, the television cameras caught him winking and laughing with Jyotiraditya Scindia, a friendly ally and adviser who was sitting next to him as he always does in parliament.

What could have been a significant and maybe even impromptu moment looked like a pre-planned hug-and-wink stunt.

Modi dismissed it, joking that it was an attempt to get him out of his prime ministerial seat so that Rahul could move in and invited him to try again in 2024.

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Responses

  1. Sorry Sir, there was no weight. Neither in the speech nor in the hug. If anything it was ridiculous


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