COVID, Nehru, migrant crisis: What’s fuelling Modi-Rahul verbal duel?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi have been engaged in a war of words ahead of the Assembly elections to five states

A verbal duel has ensued between the BJP and the Congress in the run-up to the Assembly polls in five states, glimpses of which were seen on Tuesday when Prime Minister Narendra Modi tore into the Opposition party in Parliament, only to be met with an equally savage rebuttal by Congress leaders.

Delivering a lengthy speech while replying to the debate on the President’s address to the Parliament, Modi said the Congress has failed to get the mandate of the people in several states, but was still engaging in “blind opposition”.

“The question is not about elections, it is about intentions. Despite being in power for 50 years, why are the people of the country repeatedly rejecting them? Wherever people have taken the right path, they did not allow you to enter again,” Modi said.

Claiming that his government handled the COVID-19 pandemic in an exemplary way, Modi accused the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party of trying to sabotage the success by instigating migrants in Maharashtra to defy COVID protocols and flee to their native states.

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“COVID had till then not spread in states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand. However, after this infections in these states spread rapidly,” he said. “Some people in the Congress were hoping that Corona pandemic would tarnish image and sink the BJP government,” he said.

Referring to Rahul Gandhi’s dig at an earlier session of the Parliament, where he had compared industrialists like the Ambanis and Adanis with COVID variants, Modi said such comparisons would only show the Congress in a poor light.

Modi brought in references to former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru several times in his speech to berate the policies of his government.

He said it was Nehru who delayed sending the armed forces to Goa to liberate it from the Portuguese as he wanted to protect his image as a peacekeeper in the eyes of the world.

“Goa was liberated 15 years after India attained freedom…Goa was left to fend for itself and no help was extended even as satyagrahis were shot at by the colonisers,” Modi said accusing Nehru of reprimanding Ram Manohar Lohia-led satyagrahis who were fighting for Goa’s independence, in a speech from the Red Fort on August 15, 1955.

Do your job, snaps Rahul

Replying to the prime minister’s barbs against the Congress, Rahul Gandhi said Modi can abuse the Congress and Nehru all he wants, but should also do his “job”.

“My great grandfather (Nehru) served this country. He gave his entire life to this country. So, I don’t need anyone’s certificate for my great grandfather,” Rahul said.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Rahul said the prime minister was scared of the Congress and afraid to speak the truth, which is why perhaps he didn’t answer three vital questions raised by the Opposition party.

“I had raised three important issues. First, that the prime minister has created two Indias – an extremely rich India and one for the vast majority of people that has no hope, has unemployment and faces rising prices. Second, the prime minister is attacking and destroying India’s institutions and third, he is putting India at risk because he has got a bankrupt foreign policy that has allowed China and Pakistan to get together. But the prime minister did not address any of these issues,” Rahul said.

Responding to the prime minister’s accusation of Congressmen instigating migrant labourers to flee to their home states, Rahul said he had warned the government of the COVID threat, but was turned a deaf ear.

Rahul said it’s still time for Modi to take his warning about the budding friendship between Pakistan and China seriously as “their relationship is a threat to our nation.”

“The gentleman (Modi) doesn’t understand his job very well. He has to understand that Chinese and Pakistanis are now one, India is now facing one front, it needs to be very careful. I am advising the government to please wake up. You are asleep right now, you are ignoring the facts like the Chinese have entered Ladakh. It is very dangerous for the country,” he said.

Rahul said the prime minister waxed eloquent on the alleged wrongs that the Congress and Nehru did, but didn’t speak a single word on the promises to the people that the BJP failed to fulfil.

Pointing that Modi’s entire speech was focused on the Congress and not what the president addressed, other Congress leaders said the diatribe against their party was evidently planned keeping in mind the Assembly elections in the five states.

“The Congress is there and that is why Babasaheb’s (Ambedkar) constitution is there, dreams of freedom fighters are coming true, Bapu’s thoughts and ideals are alive, nuclear power and technological revolution is there,” tweeted Congress general secretary and chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh slammed Modi for delivering a shoddy speech which he said evaded rules of sobriety of language.

“Some elevate debates in Parliament, but even by his pathetic standards of decency, dignity, sobriety of language and fidelity to facts, the PM plumbed new depths in the Rajya Sabha today, forcing an opposition walkout,” he tweeted.

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