On the opening day of the party’s 84th plenary session, Congress president Rahul Gandhi accused the BJP of “dividing” the country by spreading hatred and anger. His mother and predecessor Sonia Gandhi termed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pre-poll promises “dramebazi”, or theatrics.
Positioning himself as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s principal challenger in 2019, Rahul Gandhi on Sunday delivered one of his most aggressive speeches yet, with a promise to oust a “corrupt and power-drunk” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the next Lok Sabha elections and build a new Congress with “talented youngsters”.
In his concluding speech during the 84th Congress plenary, Gandhi also admitted that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, led by the party, did not stand up to the expectations of the people in its final years.
“I don’t say it with happiness the people of this country felt let down by us,” the Congress president told his party colleagues, evoking thunderous applause and repeated slogans of “Rahul Gandhi zindabad (Long Live Rahul Gandhi)” from the Congress workers gathered at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium.
Likening the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to the Kauravas from the Hindu epic Mahabharata, he said the Congress was humble like the Pandavas and fought for the truth.
“Centuries ago, there was a huge battle on the fields of Kurukshetra. The Kauravas were powerful and arrogant. The Pandavas were humble and fought for the truth. Like the Kauravas, BJP and RSS are designed to fight for power. Like the Pandavas, the Congress is designed to fight for the truth,” he said.
Gandhi alleged that the “corrupt and powerful today control conversation” in the country and the “name Modi symbolises the collusion between crony capitalists” and the prime minister. “Modi is not fighting corruption but is corruption himself,” he said.
He hit out at the PM and his government over the Rafale deal and the failure to bring to book Indian Premier League chairman Lalit Modi and jeweller Nirav Modi, who are accused in different cases of alleged fraud.
Seeking to reach out to the farmers and young people who formed the BJP’s core constituencies in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Gandhi urged Congress leaders and workers to set aside their differences to defeat the ruling party in 2019. “Let us put all our differences aside and work together to ensure the Congress party’s victory in 2019 elections,” he said. “If you want to fight among yourselves… after the elections please… In next 6-7 months, strict discipline is needed, there will be some setbacks but we will fight together and our workers will show India how the Congress party fights and wins the elections.”
Reconnecting with farmers, the middle-class and the youth, who had moved away from the Congress in recent years, is on top of his agenda since he took over the party reins from his mother Sonia Gandhi on December 16 last year.
“Four years ago, the youth of this country trusted Modiji but that trust has been broken. Millions of youth are jobless. All we hear today is that ours is the fastest-growing economy in the world. There is no employment, farmers are dying, and the Prime Minister says let’s do yoga in front of India Gate and tries to divert the people’s attention with fancy events,” Gandhi said in his 53-minute speech in Hindi and English, interspersed with few anecdotes of his temple visits.
Farmers and the youth also remained the focus of the party’s economic resolution and dominated the speeches of former prime minister Manmohan Singh and ex-finance minister P Chidambaram.
Gandhi stressed the need to change the Congress organisation, saying his first task will be to break the “wall that exists between the workers and senior leaders”. “Some of you might not like what I say. But this organisation needs to change, and we will do that with love.”
He asserted that party loyalists would be preferred over “outsiders who parachute” and get election tickets -- a line he has been repeatedly taking since he was anointed as the Congress vice-president in 2013.
Earlier Congress party’s demand for reverting to the old practice of paper ballots comes in the wake of a controversy over alleged EVM tampering. The Congress and other opposition parties have in the past repeatedly urged the Election Commission to replace the EVMs with ballot papers in all future elections.
On the second day of its 84th plenary session, the Opposition kept up its attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with his predecessor Manmohan Singh questioning the government’s economic policies.
“Modi said farmers’ income will be doubled in six years, it is a jumla-type statement unlikely to be achieved,” Singh said, as he expressed doubts over the government’s key agrarian agenda of doubling farmers’ income by 2020.
Singh again came down hard on the government over its demonetisation decision and “hurried” implementation of the goods and services tax (GST). “The BJP-led government messed up the Indian economy. The ill-considered demonetisation and hastily implemented GST have destroyed small-scale enterprises,” said Singh, who is widely credited with opening up the Indian economy as the finance minister.
The 85-year-old Congress leader was also critical of the government’s handling of Kashmir. “The government mismanaged the Jammu and Kashmir dispute like never before. The atmosphere in the state has been deteriorating day by day,” he said.
The criticism came a few hours after five civilians were killed in Pakistani firing along the line of control in Jammu’s Balakote.
Fuming over this BJP was quick to hit back, saying the Congress, which questioned the “fundamental existence of Lord Ram today”, wanted to be identified with the Pandavas. Defence minister and senior BJP leader Nirmala Sitharaman described Gandhi’s address as the “rhetoric of a loser” and “devoid of substance.”