New House, new mandate, new challenges for Modi


Like in his former speeches, Modi did not speak about his plans to resolve the sectarian conflict in Manipur, which has been in a state of a limbo for over a year now…reports Asian Lite News

The 18th Lok Sabha‘s first session seems to have left a deep, indelible mark on BJP’s psyche. With the days of a brute majority firmly behind, the muted yet loud saffron party saw a more organized and vocal Opposition hurting BJP where it pains most.

The charge was led by the newly minted Leader of Opposition Rahul Gandhi, who launched a pincer attack on Hindutva, NEET exams, paper leaks, and the Agniveer Scheme. The tirade by the Congress leader which lasted for 100 minutes deflated the BJP’s core focus on Hindutva. 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 Gandhi had insulted Hindus by calling them violent, as Gandhi targeted the BJP by saying “those who call themselves Hindus indulge in hate and violence round the clock”.

The speech 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 Prime Minister.

Holding up a photo of Lord Shiva, a combative 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.

The Congress leader’s attack though expunged by the Speaker citing rules revealed a chink in BJP’s armor that they weren’t the flagbearers of India’s majority community. This was reiterated by Congress MP KC Venugopal who said, “A real Hindu is a person who understands the message of debate, tolerance and human values. Mahatma Gandhi and Nathuram Godse, both believed in the Bhagavad Gita. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Godse read the Bhagavad Gita, but Mahatma Gandhi learned non-violence, tolerance, respect for human lives and the message of Lord Krishna from the holy book. Whereas Godse learned violence, murder and intolerance from the same texter.”

Modi’s bravado

The Opposition attack NEET exams, paper leaks, and the Agniveer Scheme also dented the bravado of the Prime Minister who had taken great pride in launching these plans.

Making a frontal attack on policies of the government, the Congress leader called the Agniveer scheme for defence forces as a brainchild of 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.

However, contrary to expectations that Modi may tone down his brawny posturing after his party fell short of a majority, the prime minister, while delivering his first speech in the 18th Lok Sabha, doubled down on his aggressive rhetoric centred around muscular nationalism, Hindutva, economic reforms and the self-aggrandising projection of his government as a crusader against corruption.

Crucially, he clubbed all criticisms of his government as “deshvirodhi kshadyantra”, or anti-national conspiracy, and vowed to nip all such conspiracies in the bud, indicating a surefooted continuity in the way his government has cracked down strongly against protestors, dissenters and critics.

“Modi is still strong, his voice is still strong and his determination is also strong. I want to assure all Indian people that Modi is not one to be scared and nor will be his government,” Modi said as he thumped his chest.

Ever since the 2024 Lok Sabha elections reduced the BJP to the 240 mark from 303 seats in 2019, the prime minister has taken care to signal continuity from his side. Most of his ministers remain the same, even as he dismissed all speculation to let Om Birla continue as Lok Sabha speaker.

Like in his former speeches, Modi did not speak about his plans to resolve the sectarian conflict in Manipur, which has been in a state of a limbo for over a year now.

As in all his previous speeches, Modi chose the Congress as his central target of attack. “From 2024 onwards, the Congress will be seen as a parasitic party,” he said, while alleging that the grand old party’s improved figure in the Lok Sabha was largely because of the support it received from its regional allies.

In his patently roundabout way of replying to the opposition’s campaign, Modi said that those who are questioning the government on the issue of ending reservations should remember that the Congress has always been anti-reservation, citing speeches made in a particular historical context by Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

“Some people in India are conspiring to strengthen anti-India forces. Indians need to remain alert. I want to give a warning to this ecosystem that those who prevent our nation’s progress will be dealt with in their own language,” Modi said, adding that he won’t compromise on questions of national security, come what may.

Modi may be weakened, but his posturing in the Lok Sabha signals a rigid continuity in his government’s authoritarian impulses.

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