New Delhi: In a speech replete with jibes at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi today took on the BJP government over the plight of farmers in the country, in his first speech in Parliament from the opposition benches.
"The acche din government, they call themselves that, has failed the country," Mr Gandhi said, suggesting that the Prime Minister visit farmers in distress as his party men chanted, "foreign trips." (Rate Rahul Gandhi's speech here)
The Prime Minister was not in the Lok Sabha when Mr Gandhi made his 20-minute speech during a debate on the agrarian crisis. He was frequently interrupted by the overwhelmingly larger treasury benches, and union minister Venkaiah Naidu had to request them to allow the Congress leader to speak. (Live Blog: Budget session of Parliament)
"Yours is a government of big people, a suit-boot sarkar," the 44-year-old Mr Gandhi said, pausing ever so slightly after the word "suit" to emphasise his reference to the expensive, name-striped suit the PM wore to much criticism during US president Barack Obama's visit to India in January.
After protests from the BJP he added, "The suit matter has ended, you have auctioned it, I will not talk about it. Happy?"
Mr Gandhi reeled off many statistics, challenging what he called the government's "double speak on numbers" on the extent of damage to crops in the country because of unseasonal rains and hailstorm.
"On one hand you're weakening the farmer. Then when he's weak you'll strike him down with the axe of your Land Ordinance," he alleged.
Mr Gandhi also warned the government, "You are making a big mistake by hurting the farmers and poor. They are the most powerful. Not the big businessmen in their fancy cars," adding, "The PM understands political calculations. 67% of the population depends on agriculture...why is he angering this vast chunk?"
Responding to Mr Gandhi, Union minister Venkaiah Naidu, in his speech, said the government was "sensitive" to the plight of the farmers. "Our government is committed to farmers, to the poor. Your people reserved words for the poor and deeds for the rich," he said.
Mr Gandhi returned from a 57-day sabbatical last Thursday, an absence during a crucial Parliament session that has been widely criticised. His two speeches on two days attacking the Modi government are seen as an attempt at regaining momentum.
The Congress also hopes to consolidate the massive support of farmers for a political revival after its humiliating defeat in the national elections last year and multiple state elections since.