Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday the trust reposed in him by crores of people was his protective shield against the "lies, allegations and abuses" of his critics, as he launched a stinging counterattack on the Opposition over its bid to target him over the Adani-Hindenburg issue.
Replying to the debate on the Motion of Thanks on the President's Address in Lok Sabha, PM Modi said he had spent every moment of his life working for the nation and contrasted the "lost decade" of the Congress-led UPA rule with the advent of "India's decade" under his government.
In his nearly 85-minute speech, PM Modi said the world was looking at India with hope and positivity amid instability in many parts of the globe due to the once-in-a-century pandemic in COVID-19 and conflicts. The trust of global institutions in India is due to the presence of a stable and decisive government, he stressed.
This government has the strength to take decisions in national interest and carries out reforms not out of compulsion but conviction, he said.
"But some people who are neck deep in frustration cannot see India's growth story. They cannot see the achievements of 140 crore Indians," he said, targeting the Opposition.
They failed when they were in power and they have failed in the opposition as well, PM Modi said in a swipe at the Congress which led by Rahul Gandhi has been unsparing in attacking the government over the Adani-Hindenburg issue.
"Some people have been living for their family. I live for 25 crore Indian families," he said. "The protective shield of the trust reposed by 140 crore Indians cannot be breached by the weapons of lies," he added.
While he values criticism as a purification exercise for democracy but "compulsive criticism" has replaced constructive criticism in the last nine years, the prime minister said, claiming that some people have been nursing the "misconception" for 22 years that they can rise by "abusing" him.
Opposition parties could not come together despite frequent election losses but they have now joined hands after the Enforcement Directorate's action in corruption cases, he claimed.
"They should thank the ED. It brought them together, something voters could not do," he said. Opposition parties have accused the investigation agency of working as a government instrument to target the BJP's rivals.
He said the Opposition had wasted the last nine years in levelling baseless allegations instead of indulging in constructive criticism.
While the Opposition alleges that India has weakened globally and lost its voice, it also accuses the government of influencing other countries to take certain decisions, he said.
This is quite a contradiction and the Opposition should make up its mind whether the country is strong or weak under him, he said, drawing laughter from the treasury benches.
PM Modi's rebuttal came against the backdrop of the Opposition's charge that his dispensation influences foreign powers to favour the Adani group.
"When you lose elections, blame the EVMs, criticise the Election Commission, if the Supreme Court does not give a favourable verdict, criticise the Supreme Court.
"If corruption is being probed, abuse the investigative agencies. If the Army displays valour and the narrative infuses confidence in people, abuse the armed forces, level allegations against them. When there is talk of economic progress, criticise the RBI," PM Modi said.
The prime minister asserted that he has not come this far due to media headlines but has spent every moment of his life for the nation.
"The trust people have in PM Modi is beyond their understanding," he said, asserting the lies and abuses hurled at him will not pass muster with crores of people who have benefited from a number of his government's schemes, ranging from free grains to building toilets and houses, subsidised medicine, health insurance and piped water.
The prime minister cited terror attacks in different parts of India during the UPA government, its "absence" of response following the Mumbai attack and various alleged scams involving 2G, coal allocation and the 2010 Commonwealth Games to target the Congress.
He contrasted it with the boom in start-ups, effective response to terrorism and boost in infrastructure under the BJP-led NDA rule since 2014.
The 2004-14 decade was the era of most scams in India after Independence while every citizen felt unsafe due to terror attacks across the country, he said.
In a reference to the last leg of Mr Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra in Kashmir, the prime minister recalled the threats issued by terrorists when PM Modi organised the BJP's campaign to unfurl the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar in the 90s.
He went ahead with his plans and those who have recently come back from there and were part of the 'tiranga yatra' could have seen how freely people can move around there, he said.
The Congress leader had concluded his Yatra last month by unfurling the national flag at Lal Chowk.
Every time the treasury benches raised "Modi, Modi" slogans to laud the prime minister's address, opposition members countered this with chants of "Adani, Adani". Modi made no mention of the businessman's name but frequently targeted the Opposition over its charges against him.
The speech, peppered with couplets, was marked with his usual sarcasm and biting criticism of rivals, besides a reference to a number of achievements he credited his nearly nine-year-old government for.
With Rahul Gandhi absent during a big part of his speech before he arrived in Lok Sabha, PM Modi said an entire ecosystem is jumping with joy after some speeches, a likely reference to the Congress leader's attack on him on Tuesday.
"Some people would have slept well. They have probably not woken up yet," he added, evoking laughter from BJP members.
In a dig at the main opposition party, he said some have this "craze" about Harvard studies and noted that one of them was about the "rise and decline" of the Congress. Big universities will also be studying the decimation of the Congress and also those behind it, he added.
The prime minister said India was emerging as a manufacturing hub and the world now sees its prosperity in the country's growth.
India now ranks third in the number of start-ups, 108 unicorns rose here during the pandemic, it is globally second in mobile manufacturing, it is number three in the world in domestic air traffic and its energy consumption is third globally, he said.
India had little presence in the port sector but now its players are making their mark, the prime minister said.
While price rise, unemployment and food crisis have hit many countries, including those in the neighbourhood, India has risen as the fifth largest economy, he said.
Under the UPA rule, the economy was in poor shape and inflation was in double digits. All it could do was to make a law to deal with problems like unemployment, PM Modi said, adding that his government has prioritised the interests of the deprived sections like the Schedules Castes, backwards and Scheduled Tribes while also benefiting the women, youth and the middle class.
The mobile internet data which cost Rs 250 earlier now comes at Rs 10 only while medical shops providing subsidised medicines have alone benefited people by over Rs 20,000 crore, he said.
Seventy airports were built in 70 years while 70 more were constructed in the last nine years, he said.
Some people cannot come to terms with this progress and people's repeated rejection of them as they sink into hopelessness, he said.
He said President Droupadi Murmu's address to Parliament was an inspiration for everyone and added that opposition members did not criticise its content.
Raising slogans in support of their demand for a JPC probe into the Adani issue, members of the BRS walked out soon after PM Modi began his reply. Congress members also walked out but rejoined the proceedings after Mr Gandhi came.
Some opposition members tried to interrupt the speech but were told by the Speaker to maintain decorum.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)