Setting the tone for the Congress party’s 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign, party president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday launched a scathing attack targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Pointing a finger at the PM’s silence over the bank and loan frauds involving businessmen Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi, Rahul said, “The PM told us all that he is the country’s chowkidar (watchman). But when Nirav Modi and Mallya ran away he remained silent. He didn’t act. In reality, he is the chowkidar (watchman) only for 15-20 richest people in India.”
Rahul was addressing a Congress booth workers’ meet in Mumbai. Congress’s election managers confirmed that going after Modi’s image was a strategy the party feels will reap electoral dividends in the coming election.
Much to the cheer of the 10,000 workers gathered for Tuesday’s meeting, when a party worker raised a slogan against Narendra Modi while interrupting Rahul’s speech just after he said how the Modi government had allowed Mallya, Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi to flee the country, Rahul remarked, “Woh (Narendra Modi) bhi bhaag jayega. (He’ll also run away).”
While pitching for a broader alliance of secular forces to unseat the BJP, Rahul made it clear that he was for a Congress-led formation. “Only the Congress and its ideology can defeat the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS),” he said.
He added, “The Congress and the Opposition will rout the BJP in 2019. We ran them close in Gujarat, outsmarted them in Karnataka, will defeat them in Rajasthan and rout them in the 2019 poll.” Firing another barb, “You don’t have to believe me. Just look at the PM’s face and his voice these days. He is scared. (BJP chief) Amit Shah is even more terrified. That is because all they have been doing these four years is spread politics of lies, hatred and divide. People will show them the door.”
Rahul invoked the “shisya dharma” to take another dig at Modi. Invoking Modi’s mentor and BJP stalwart Lal Krishna Advani in his speech, Rahul said, “In Hinduism, there is none bigger than the guru (teacher). But when we attend functions in Parliament, I’ve to step in to guard Advaniji’s respect.” He also recounted how he was among the first to visit ailing former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the hospital.
Rahul later tweeted, “Ekalavya cut off his right thumb because his Guru demanded it. In the BJP, they cut down their own Gurus. Humiliating Vajpayeeji, Advaniji, Jaswant Singhji and their families is the Prime Minister’s way of protecting Indian culture.”
Labelling the Modi government as being “pro-rich” and “anti-poor”, Rahul said the government does not have any qualms in writing off Rs 2.5 lakh worth loan arrears of businessmen, but says that it does not have a policy to write off farm loans. “We (the UPA) had written off farm loans worth Rs 70,000 crore.” He also hit out at the government over rising unemployment. “He (Modi) had promised to give 2 crore jobs every year. But his minister has now admitted in Parliament that unemployment was on the rise. The country’s youth are demanding jobs. But Modi does not want to give it to them. He wants to split a wedge between them, and feels that his speeches are enough to run the nation,” he said.
On a day that began with him attending a magistrate court hearing in Bhiwandi over a defamation case filed against him by an RSS worker for a statement he had made in 2014 regarding Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, Rahul even invoked another Hindutva hardliner Vinayak Sawarkar in his speech.
“When Sawarkar was apologising to the British, several Congressmen preferred to spend their time in jail. Our people have sacrificed for the country, united it. While the present regime is hell bent on dividing the country.”
Before Rahul’s address, Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam, party’s North Indian face in the commercial capital, former MP and Dalit leader Eknath Gaikwad, party legislator Aslam Shaikh, Congress state chief and Maratha leader Ashok Chavan, and former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot addressed workers. Later in the evening, Rahul interacted with party corporators from Mumbai.