Narendra Modi ambushes Congress in Parliament speech-LiveMint-28.02.2015
Attack was unexpected because it came amid efforts by the NDA to build a bipartisan consensus on key legislation
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the Congress by surprise on Friday with a blistering attack focusing on the party’s record in office and described it as an obstructionist in the opposition.
The attack was unexpected because it came amid efforts by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to build a bipartisan consensus on key legislation—like the contentious amendment to the land acquisition bill—to kick-start economic reforms.
The Prime Minister was replying to the motion of thanks on the President’s address at the start of the budget session of Parliament.
At the same time, Modi held out an olive branch to other opposition parties by signalling that the government was willing to compromise on some of the changes it proposed to the land bill, to accommodate the concerns of their members.
Analysts saw his belligerence against the Congress as an effort to isolate the party, which has leveraged its strength in the Rajya Sabha to obstruct passage of key legislation.
It may also be aimed at reshaping a political narrative that has turned against the NDA after the BJP’s humiliating defeat in the Delhi assembly election and the opposition targeting the ruling coalition as anti-farmer over the land acquisition bill.
Modi sought to portray the Congress as a party that was out of sync with the new reality of India—a country whose demography is overwhelmingly young, with 65% of the population being less than 25 years of age, and increasingly aspirational.
In a sarcastic vein, he assured the Congress that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), which assures 100 days of manual work a year to at least one member of every village household, will never be disbanded. The scheme will be continued as a living example of the Congress’ mistakes, Modi said.
“People can doubt my understanding on some subjects but no one can doubt my political sense. My understanding tells me never to remove MGNREGA because it is an example of six decades of failure of the Congress party; it has to pay people to dig ditches,” Modi said.
Defending his government’s decision to amend the land acquisition act, he claimed that it would not hurt his government politically.
The Congress and other critics of the government have said that the amended version of the law would benefit industries by making it easier for them to acquire farm land, and put farmers at a disadvantage by diluting inbuilt safeguards.
“The Congress party has never got so few seats in the history, it didn’t do so badly even during emergency,” Modi said, referring to the party’s ouster in the election that followed its draconian emergency rule in the mid-1970s.
“If the law was so beneficial for the farmers, why did the Congress lose the election? Why did the government try to change the 1894 law in 2013, why did the government take 120 years to change the law?” Modi said.
He added that some state chief ministers belonging to various political parties had recommended some changes in the bill to overcome difficulties they were facing in building roads and irrigation facilities.
“There has been a lot of discussion over the land acquisition act. Take credit for the law if you want, but also make rules. We should not be so arrogant to believe that nothing can be better than what we have done,” he said.
“We want to add to the efforts made by you. There were certain things left behind in the previous law by mistake, we want to change that. Don’t make this into a political issue. If you find anything in this act that is against farmers, I am willing to make those changes,” Modi said in his 70-minute speech.
Senior BJP leaders are hopeful that the attempt to corner the Congress in both houses of Parliament will eventually succeed, as ministers in the government are talking to the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to win their support and break the opposition unity on the land acquisition bill.
Senior ministers are also talking to the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham and the Biju Janata Dal, hoping to win the backing of these parties once the government agrees to accept their recommendations on the land acquisition bill.
The government has asked senior ministers Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and M. Venkaiah Naidu to hold talks with opposition parties individually.
“It is possible to divide the opposition. Some regional parties may try to cut a short term deal with BJP. The Prime Minister attacked the Congress because he doesn’t want the party to regain momentum and also to avoid national-level anti-incumbency against his government,” said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.