There is an atmosphere of “fear” in the country, phones of Opposition leaders are being tapped and they have all been “reduced to terrorists” by the BJP-led government at the Centre, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said in the Rajya Sabha on Monday.
“You have divided political parties by using the ED, Income Tax, NIA. You have gone after people who are aligned with us. Businessmen are fearful of speaking to us on the phone because our phones are being tapped and they fear being targeted for having sided with the Opposition. When I was the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, we used to do that to terrorists. You have reduced all of us to terrorists, you have made us international terrorists. Fear is not a good thing, especially in a democracy,” said Azad, as he called for “freedom of speech, freedom to socialise, freedom to do business”.
Participating in the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address, he referred to his visits to Gujarat, and said even voters were threatened with dire consequences if they did not vote for the BJP.
The Triple Talaq Bill, he said, was the government’s way of dividing society. “First, you polarised along religious lines for votes. Then you artificially divided Shias and Sunnis. Now, you even want to separate husband and wife. What will happen to the wife and children while the husband is in jail? Leave the community alone. They are already fearful, persecuted, unemployed. Do not divide them any more,” said Azad.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill criminalises instant triple talaq with a provision for three years jail term. While it was passed by the Lok Sabha during the Winter Session, the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha demanded that it be sent to a select committee.
Taking a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “New India” comment after the Union Budget last week, Azad said: “Give us back our old India of Gandhiji, where Hindus and Muslims gave blood for each other, babies did not get raped and where there was no fear.”
Modi was present in the Rajya Sabha during Azad’s speech.
When MoS, Parliamentary Affairs, Vijay Goel, attempted to interrupt his speech, Azad recalled how former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee had asked him (Azad) to teach parliamentary affairs to BJP leader Madan Lal Khurana. He said Goel could take lessons from Leader of the House Arun Jaitley, or he (Azad) could spend an hour with him.
Azad said the situation in Kashmir has deteriorated, with an increasing number of soldiers and civilians being killed in shelling from across the border. “Are you aware that they do not let the BJP people go to the border areas. They say we have never been killed like this before… you called us nikammi (useless), even said doob maro (drown to death). Even if we accept for a minute that we were weak, are you aware that in 70 years this kind of violence and casualties have never been seen there,” he said.
Accusing the BJP-led government of re-packaging the previous UPA government’s schemes as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Jan Dhan Yojana, Mission Indradhanush and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, he said it was a government of “name changers”, not “game changers”. “As I like to say, when there is a global tender for packaging and repackaging, it will go to the BJP because you are masters of the art,” he said.
In his speech, which lasted for almost an hour, Azad accused the government of making false promises. He also countered the allegations of corruption against the Congress, saying the courts had failed to find merit in the charges, including on Bofors, “on which many people have baked their breads and many governments have been formed.” He pointed out that all the accused in the 2G scam case have also been acquitted.
Citing a UN report, he said over 60 per cent of toilets constructed under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan did not have water and were therefore unusable.
Azad said the National Health Protection Scheme announced in the Union Budget would only benefit insurance companies. Instead of an insurance scheme for 50 crore people, he said the Centre should focus on building more government hospitals to provide cost-effective treatment to the poor. “The examples of the US and UK are there. They spend 15 per cent of the Budget on health. But all reports say insurance companies benefit, not the common man. I don’t know how our people are going to benefit,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Opposition parties moved 324 amendments to the President’s address.