It was an aggressive Narendra Modi who spoke in both the Houses of Parliament today on the motion of thanks to the President for the opening address to the Budget session. The PM, in all honesty, gave far more than he received from his critics. Of course, some will quibble that it was not prime ministerial to carry the battle to the Opposition camp. But then the terms of political discourse having been so debased, abused by wild and vile charges and counter-charges, Modi probably per force felt obliged to pay back the Opposition, particularly the Congress Party, in its own coin.
Laced with bitter invective and finger-wagging, he pulverised the Opposition. In the Lok Sabha, a group of Congress MPs kept on crying themselves hoarse all through the Prime Minister’s speech, their screeching slogan-shouting could be heard on the live telecast of the proceedings but their faces, mercifully, remained in the background. Later, in the afternoon, when the PM spoke in the Rajya Sabha on the motion of thanks, he virtually continued in the same vein. Significantly, the Congress and other Opposition members sought to barrack the PM, but thanks to the sternness of the Chairman, M Venkaiah Naidu, they had to hear him without much interruption. What a difference a presiding officer can make to the orderly running of the House.
Modi’s speech can be broadly divided into two parts, one naming and shaming the Congress for its real or alleged scams and blunders, and two, elaborating at some length all the good things he claims his government has done to improve the quality of governance and to deliver the benefits to the weak and the under-privileged. Employing cutting sarcasm, he named a number of schemes and programmes which were indeed conceived by a Congress government, some more than three decades ago, but were abandoned after merely laying the foundation stone or making an announcement in Parliament. He conceded that the Aadhaar programme was indeed begun by the previous Congress Government, but he mocked the party for doing everything to obstruct its successful use in delivering benefits to the needy.
Some 400-odd government schemes used Aadhaar as a tool of honesty but the vested interests who stole widows’ pensions, food subsidies, etc., feel deprived of the loot and ill-gotten gains and were raising all sorts of objections. Incidentally, speaking later in the Rajya Sabha, the PM sought to trace the origins of the Aadhaar card to the then Home Minister L K Advani’s proposal back in 1998 when he had conceived of a national identity card for citizens loosely modeled on the lines of the social security number for citizens in the US. Likewise, the PM cited various other ways in which the government had tried to plug the leakage of public funds while ensuring that the targeted groups received the promised benefits. Touching upon the promise to double the income of farmers, he spoke about better use of water and fertilizers, better returns from sale of their produce in e-mandis and the on-going effort to whittle down the stranglehold of the APMCs on the farm sector.
Admittedly, his harsh tone and strong words directed at his critics were interspersed with appeals to the Opposition for cooperation in the larger national interest. Taking a swipe at Rahul Gandhi, he mentioned how at the height of the Doklam face-off with China, the former was cosseted with the Chinese Ambassador. He quoted in the Rajya Sabha from the autobiography of the late President R Venkataraman to buttress the charge how the Congress Party had relied on defence deals for raising funds. Of course, he did not touch upon the Rafele contract, about which Rahul Gandhi has sought to raise doubts. The government-to-government deal has no middlemen and, as and when the facts are released, Gandhi and others of his ilk will only feel embarrassed.
Indeed, if anything is wrong with the deal, it is that Modi short-circuited the laid-down procedures to almost unilaterally clinch the deal. Given the long-standing need of the air force for fighter jets, the PM could not be faulted, but in compressing the decades-long process involved in the defence purchase decision, he may have procedurally gone wrong. That is all. Given that the Parliament is set to adjourn for mid-session break on Friday, the passage of the Budget would be its main achievement. Implementing the Budget from April 1, will lead to better and fuller accounting of the government’s financials, not a small change for good governance.