‘You are not Hindus’: Rahul Gandhi’s dig at BJP draws protests in Lok Sabha

‘You are not Hindus’: Rahul Gandhi’s dig at BJP draws protests in Lok Sabha 
| Video Credit: PTI

In his maiden speech as Leader of the Opposition, he raises NEET, Manipur violence, price rise, and unemployment; the Congress leader also flays the ruling party for attacks on the Constitution

Updated - July 02, 2024 02:01 pm IST

Published - July 01, 2024 04:26 pm IST - New Delhi

Leader of Opposition Rahul Gandhi Rahul Gandhi’s maiden speech as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha on July 1, during the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address, prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to retort that Mr. Gandhi had insulted Hindus by calling them violent, as Mr. Gandhi targeted the BJP by saying “those who call themselves Hindus indulge in hate and violence round the clock”.

“The issue is a serious one, to call the entire Hindu community violent is serious,” Mr. Modi said, interjecting Mr. Gandhi‘s speech. Hitting back, Mr. Gandhi said, “Narendra Modi ji is not the entire Hindu community, the BJP is not the entire Hindu community, the RSS is not the entire Hindu community”.

Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Rahul Gandhi speaks in the House during the ongoing Parliament session, in New Delhi on July 1, 2024.

Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Rahul Gandhi speaks in the House during the ongoing Parliament session, in New Delhi on July 1, 2024. | Photo Credit: ANI

The Prime Minister, who sat through most parts of the Opposition leader’s speech, intervened twice. Taking a dig at Mr. Gandhi’s comment that Ministers don’t greet him “out of fear of Modi ji,” the Prime Minister said democracy and the Constitution have taught him to take the post of Leader of Opposition seriously.

Mr. Gandhi, on the other hand, took a swipe at the Prime Minister for being a “non-biological” being, referring to an interview of Mr. Modi.

The speech, that stretched over one hour and forty minutes, was marked with confrontation, interruptions and interjections from senior Ministers including Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, Agriculture Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kiren Rijiju, besides the Prime Minister.

All the Ministers charged that the Opposition leader was misleading the House, and countered Mr. Gandhi with facts.

Holding up a photo of Lord Shiva, a combative Mr. Gandhi started his speech by taking on the Hindutva plank of the BJP and said his own party’s symbol - the hand - is like the abhay mudra (the right hand held upright with the palm facing outwards) and it has resonance with all religions including Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, Buddhism and Jainism. He also displayed photos of Guru Nanak and Jesus Christ.

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“Shivji says daro mat, darao mat [don’t fear], shows the abhay mudra, talks about ahimsa [non-violence], but those who call themselves Hindus indulge in hatred, violence and untruths round the clock,” Mr. Gandhi said, pointing towards the BJP MPs. When the Treasury benches erupted over his remarks, the Congress leader said, “Aap Hindu ho hi nahi [You are not Hindus]“.

Alleging that the Opposition leader had “categorically” called Hindus a “violent community”, Mr. Shah said, “Crores of people take pride in identifying themselves as Hindus, so he [Mr. Gandhi] should apologise to the whole country”.

The Home Minister also urged Speaker Om Birla not to be indulgent towards the Opposition leader beyond what rules permit, and sought protection of the Chair while pressing for authentication of the statements Mr. Gandhi made on the floor of the House.

The debate also witnessed a sharp exchange between Mr. Birla and Mr. Gandhi, who asked why the Speaker had bowed before Mr. Modi.

Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Rahul Gandhi speaks in the House during the ongoing Parliament session, in New Delhi on July 1, 2024.

Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Rahul Gandhi speaks in the House during the ongoing Parliament session, in New Delhi on July 1, 2024. | Photo Credit: ANI

“I noticed something. When I shook your hand, you stood straight and shook my hand. When Modi ji shook your hand, you bowed down and shook his hand,” Mr. Gandhi noted. He also reiterated the point of microphone being turned off or the Lok Sabha cameras turning away from him the moment he spoke of Lord Shiva.

Responding to him, Mr. Birla said, “Prime Minister is the Leader of House. My culture and traditions say I should bow to those who are elders and those who are equal should be treated equally.”

Mr. Gandhi once again raised the point of his microphone being turned off and pointed out that the Lok Sabha cameras were moving away from him when he was speaking about Lord Shiva.

“Is showing Lord Shiva’s image not allowed in this House?” he asked. Earlier, the Speaker had told the Opposition leader that showing placards and posters of any kind was not allowed in the House.

The Congress leader accused the BJP of launching “systematic attacks” on the Constitution and the fundamental concept of India, threatening minorities and spreading hatred and violence against Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. “I was attacked on the orders of PM Modi and the government. There were 20-plus cases, a two-year jail sentence, my house was taken away and [I was subjected to] 55 hours of interrogation by the Enforcement Directorate,” he said.

Making a frontal attack on policies of the government, the Congress leader called the Agniveer scheme for defence forces as a brainchild of Mr. Modi that treated them as “use and throw labourers without adequate compensation”. He also accused the government of unleashing a civil war in Manipur; alleged that the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) was turned into a commercial exam from a professional one; questioned why the government had not made minimum support price (MSP) a legal guarantee; and targeted the government over price rise and unemployment.

Asserting that two crore students have been affected by 70 paper leaks in the past seven years including the latest NEET controversy, Mr. Gandhi said, “The students do not believe in the exam because they feel that it is for the rich people and there is no place in it for meritorious students”.

Intervening, the Defence Minister asked Mr. Gandhi not to try to mislead Parliament, asserting that a compensation of ₹1 crore is paid to Aginveers who get martyred and claimed that 158 organisations were consulted before implementing the scheme. On MSP, the Agriculture Minister countered by saying that the government’s procurement price was 50% over the production cost.

Ending his speech on a note of conciliation and after congratulating the BJP for winning 240 seats, Mr. Gandhi said, “Do not think of the Opposition as your enemies... We are ready to discuss anything you want to. Let us work together to take the country forward.”

While the Treasury benches had greeted Mr. Gandhi with chants of “Modi and Bharat Mata ki jai”, Opposition benches, in a display of newfound strength, shouted “Rahul, Rahul” as the LoP ended his speech.

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