The Lok Sabha showdown between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi demonstrated beyond any doubt why Parliament continues to be so relevant to address issues, even though several questions concerning the conduct of the treasury benches as well as the opposition remain unanswered. It was after many years that an exchange of words evinced interest not only in political circles but also outside. There were debating points made by both the leaders and the speeches reflected the hard work put in by the backroom boys in gathering appropriate illustrations to make the delivery more powerful.
To an objective observer, Rahul appeared to be in a conciliatory mode and did offer an olive branch in order to facilitate the running of the House. However, that did not prevent him from sparing the Prime Minister and he ridiculed some of his schemes including the proposal to convert black money into white describing it as the “Fair and Lovely Yojana”. It is another matter that several MPs have termed the remark as “racist”, and are of the opinion that this line from an advertisement should not have been used in Parliament, as it promotes a particular product. Others want to know why some MPs appear in commercials to support various brands. These MPs include former superstar Hema Malini, Urdu writer Javed Akhtar and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.
It was odd that when Rahul accused the Prime Minister of not consulting his colleagues like Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and L.K. Advani, besides other fellow MPs on crucial issues, no person from the treasury benches attempted to rebut him. In fact, some of the ministers were seen smirking giving an impression that they concurred with the observation. Rahul further tore into the Prime Minister and stated that Modi was not India and he should take into account varied views before announcing schemes or signing agreements, forcing his critics to vividly recall that during Emergency, the then Congress president Devkant Barooah, in a fit of sycophancy, had declared that India is Indira and Indira is India.
It was finally left to Modi himself to demolish Rahul, when, without naming him, he noted that there were many in the opposition benches who were not given an opportunity to speak lest they did better than those who did. In his characteristic combative style, he also quoted Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi to drive home the point on the significance of maintaining protocol while conducting legislative business in Parliament, while simultaneously taking a dig at the Congress strategy of stalling the House time and again. The party must learn from its elders, a jibe that left the Congress benches smarting. He asked the opposition to participate in the nation building exercise along with the government, rather than perennially targeting it. Modi asserted that their focus seemed to be more on uprooting him rather than raking out poverty.
Modi further obliquely took on the Congress vice president by accusing him of obstructing Parliament functioning, not because of disgruntlement against the government, but because that was the only way of drawing attention. He reached out to the opposition towards the end and asked for their cooperation in making Make in India and other schemes a success. However, many MPs wondered whether after such a fierce attack on the Congress, the atmosphere in both the Houses would be conducive for conducting business.
The proceedings of Parliament over a period of two days also echoed outside and various leaders gave their own spin to the verbal fencing. The fact that the Prime Minister barely touched the burning issues concerning Rohith Vemula’s suicide to the happenings in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, became a talking point among his adversaries. After his release, JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar, referring to the example of Khrushchev and Stalin in the PM’s speech, ridiculed him and said that he would have liked to debate with him on Hitler instead.
However, observing the Parliament exchanges in a detached manner, one can easily conclude that they helped in bringing down the rising political temperature in the country in the wake of many unsavoury and unfortunate incidents in various places. The Congressmen were happy that their leader made a commendable speech inside the Lok Sabha, while the BJP supporters had the satisfaction of seeing Narendra Modi debunking the charges and coming out in glory in his inimitable manner of punctuating his speech with barbs, satire and some plain talking.
In fact, both leaders can draw lessons from what happened inside the temple of democracy. Parliament remains the best forum to air one’s grievances or make any policy declarations. Therefore, its sanctity must be upheld by one and all. It has been seen that in the past few years, there have been attempts by members from both sides of the aisle to somehow diminish the relevance of Parliament. It is thus imperative for the Prime Minister as the leader of the Lok Sabha and head of the government and principal opposition leaders to restore the faith of the people in this institution. Between us.