After an unexplained absence of 56 days, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi made a strong comeback in Parliament on Monday by calling the NDA government a “suit-boot ki sarkar”, and advising PM Narendra Modi to “go to the farmers” and “see for himself” the damage caused by unseasonal rains.
Rahul’s 20-minute speech, in the form of an intervention during a debate on the “agrarian situation in the country “, saw multiple interruptions from BJP MPs stung by a series of barbs directed at the NDA government.
At one point, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu had to implore MPs from his party to stay calm and let the Congress leader continue.
“Let me give the PM an advice. Why doesn’t he go and see for himself how much damage the farmers are facing? Wherever people are in pain, people are in difficulties, why doesn’t he go there and speak to them? The wheat stock is lying in the markets because the government is not taking it…you are kicking the farmers away whenever they are asking for fertilisers,” Rahul said.
Compared to the aggressive nature of his speech at the farmers’ rally on Sunday, Rahul appeared more relaxed and spontaneous this time. He laced his speech, delivered in a mix of Hindi and English, with punchlines, deliberate pauses and a mocking tone that appeared to rattle the ruling coalition.
“If he (Modi) understands political calculations, why is he making the 67 per cent of the population angry? I thought he was a pragmatic man,” he said.
Rahul was even seen winking at the agitated Treasury benches, with his Congress colleagues erupting in laughter at many of his remarks.
For instance, his repeated reference to “your PM” drew loud protests from the BJP benches who insisted that he refer to Modi has “our PM”. Rahul shot back: “He is the country’s PM, true. But does that not make him your PM as well? Do you not want me call him your PM? Is he not your PM?”
Taking another dig at the ruling party, Rahul referred to the controversial suit that PM Modi wore, with his name monogrammed as pinstripes, during the visit of US President Barack Obama this year.
“Yeh to suit-boot ki sarkar hai (This is a government of the suit and boot),” he said, adding, “Chalo, suit ki baat khatam ho gayi hai (The talk about suit is over). You auctioned it. I will not speak about it now. Happy?”
Quoting figures, Rahul said that the 10-year UPA regime had ensured a sharp rise in the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of wheat, rice and sugarcane.
He said that during the previous government, MSP of wheat went up from Rs 640 to 1,400 per quintal and that of rice and sugarcane from Rs 560 and Rs 73 to Rs 1,310 and Rs 220 respectively.
On the other hand, he added, the present government had raised the MSP of wheat by only Rs 50, sugarcane by Rs 10 and cotton by Rs 50.
“During our government’s tenure, we increased minimum support prices and agricultural credit for farmers. During your time, MSP is where it was,” he said.
Quoting renowned scientist M S Swaminathan, and referring indirectly to the government’s recent purchase of 36 Rafale jets, Rahul said, “Mr Swaminathan has said the future will belong to nations with grains, not guns. You talk about defence, about missiles and fighter planes, but you forget the 60 per cent people (who are engaged in agriculture) of this country,” he said.
“When I asked myself, why is this happening, I got only one answer — that the cost of farmers’ land is rising fast, and that your corporate friends want to usurp them. On one hand, you are weakening the farmer and the labourer…when he won’t be able to stand on his feet, that is when you will axe him with your Land Ordinance. That is why you are ignoring the 60 per cent,” he added.
Seeking to show the government’s efforts in poor light, Rahul alleged that it was not even sure how many hectares of land had been affected by the unseasonal weather.
“Agricultural experts had said 180 lakh hectares were affected leading to a loss of Rs 40,000 crore in 14 states. But the PM said the experts were wrong and the correct figure was 106 lakh hectares. After that the Agriculture Ministry said the PM was wrong and that only 80 lakh hectares were affected. Please tell me who is right? Are all of them right? This is the BJP’s style. They say something here, something there and something somewhere else, and then they claim all of them are saying the same thing,” he said.
When Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh objected, Rahul said, “Your PM should go to the farmers to see how much damage it has caused them.”
Referring to the proposed Land Acquisition Bill, Rahul alleged that the government wanted to make its “corporate friends” happy at the expense of farmers.
“One thing is clear. Your government is ignoring the farmers. Yeh bade logon ki sarkar hai (This is a government of the high and mighty),” he said.
The BJP’s top leadership was not present at the beginning of Rahul’s speech, although Finance Minister Arun Jaitley did make an appearance midway for a brief while. It was finally left to Naidu to put up a counter later.