In what should be his penultimate speech in the 16th Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly defended his government’s achievements and launched an attack on the Congress party and the Opposition, pitching his tenure as “55 months of service to the nation” against “55 years of enjoyment of power of the Congress”.
Replying to the debate on the motion of thanks to President Ram Nath Kovind’s address to Parliament, Modi used his hour-long speech to reach out to key constituencies — from first-time voters who will cast their ballot for the first time in the upcoming general election this summer, the middle class, traders, the poor, and farmers.
He listed out major successes and historic initiatives undertaken by his government.
The prime minister mocked the Congress several times and fielded the Opposition’s charges on what have emerged as key national issues — unemployment, farm crises, and the Rafael fighter jet deal.
In an aggressive speech, Modi sought to counter charges leveled by the Congress and said that in an election year, “leaders are bound by a compulsion to make all kinds of charges”.
Modi sought to play up his humble beginnings and status as an outsider in Delhi to attack the Congress.
“The root of the problem is that a poor man who has never seen the streets of Delhi has done so much, that they can’t digest. The Congress has been tied to power.
“This intoxication is creating a problem.”
He chose to call emerging and newfound Opposition unity as “maha-milawat gathbandan” or an “adulterated alliance”.
He said Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, wanted the Congress disbanded after Independence.
It was he who wanted a Congress-mukt Bharat (Congress-free India).
“I’m just fulfilling that dream of his,” said Modi.
He also said Babasaheb Ambedkar once said that “joining the Congress was like committing suicide”.
“When people talk about history, they usually refer to two periods AD and BC. It seems they [the Congress] have their own definition of AD and BC, which are ‘Before Congress’ and ‘After Dynasty’…as if nothing ever existed in this country before the Congress came.”
Responding to Modi’s allegations against the Congress, the party’s spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said: “The Modi government has compromised national security in the past five years. Today, the same government is talking about national security.” Surjewala also criticized the Prime Minister over the issue of unemployment and the state of the economy.
Modi dismissed allegations of joblessness and cited data on economic activity to assert that job creation was taking place. In a changed economy, old parameters were not relevant anymore, and therefore, token surveys of job creation were no longer useful, he said.
“Informal sector gives 85-90% jobs and organised sector offer just 10-15% of jobs. Let’s talk about this small formal sector. Between September 2017 and November 18…in these 15 months, 18 million people were registered in the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation. And you say this happened without jobs?” the PM said.
The government was recently caught in a controversy when the Business Standard newspaper published a draft employment report by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) that showed the joblessness rate at a four-decade high of 6.1% under the tenure of the current government.
Coming to the informal sector, which generates the largest share of employment, Modi said transport sector was a major creator of jobs.
He said 4.6 lakh trucks and commercial vehicles were bought, apart from 3.7 million three-wheelers. “Are these not being utilized or have people bought them to just keep them parked? Do these not create jobs?”
He also said the pace of highway expansion had doubled, while ride-hailing apps have generated huge employment. “Are these driver-less cars?”
Modi said the government could have easily handed out a farm loan waiver but such a move would only benefit large farmers. “We are giving out a perennial income support to the poorest farmers who need it the most,” he said.
Speaking on the 10% quota for the economically weaker sections of the society, Modi said: “We have tried to bring it by avoiding any social tension and without affecting any existing reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.” He said his government had built 130 million houses for the poor under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and had almost achieved 100% electrification of the country’s villages.
On the controversial Rafael fighter jet deal, Modi said the defence minister has already rebutted every charge of the Opposition. He took the Congress head-on by saying the party wanted the armed forces to be weak. “The Congress does not want our air force to be powerful. I am levelling a serious allegation. Who are they batting for?”
“You left the Army incapacitated; it was not in a position to carry out surgical strikes,” Modi said, refuting the Opposition party’s claim that cross-border strikes by the army was a routine affair — a response to the Modi government’s own so-called surgical strike against terror pods in Pakistan.
Modi slammed the Congress for alleging that his government did not respect the sanctity of various institutions. “The Congress used Article 356 to dismiss governments 100 times. Indira Gandhi dismissed state governments 50 times. The Congress tries to scare the judiciary with impeachment. It calls the army chief goonda [thug],” the PM said.
He said he inaugurated projects whose foundations were laid by the country’s first prime minister.
Addressing the poor, he said: “Those who say this is a government of the rich, I am proud to say that I made 100 million toilets for the rich of this country. They are my rich.”
He said in 55 years — a jibe at the Congress again — 120 million cooking gas connections were given, while during his 55 months alone, 130 million connections were made available free of cost.
On demonetization, Modi said: “After note ban, 3 lakh shell companies have been shut down. More than 20,000 organisations who were surviving on foreign funds and hampering development projects were shut down.”
Referring to himself, he said, “Modi will continue to threaten people who try to loot the nation. People who have looted the nation should be afraid of Modi.”
Analysts said the Prime Minister’s speech was both a political attack on his rivals and an attempt to convince the nation about his economic agenda, especially job creation.
“That jobs have been created is partly true, but there is a question of sufficiency and quality,” said Amit Basole, an economist with Azim Premji University.”
Source: Hindustan Times