Combative PM takes on Advani, NDA in ‘election speech’

March 5th, 2008 - 6:13 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, March 5 (IANS) In a speech with electoral overtones, an unusually aggressive Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday took on the opposition for wrecking the lives of India’s farming community and of failing to curb terrorism and price hikes. Manmohan Singh began on a seemingly conciliatory tone but quickly turned belligerent and pointedly named opposition leader L.K. Advani, prompting elated treasury members to thump their desks and a walkout by an angry Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies.

Once the prime minister finished - amid repeated disturbances - more than one MP from the Congress and its partners in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) congratulated him for what they said was a fantastic speech.

Referring to Advani, Ram Kripal Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) told the prime minister when he went to congratulate him: “You have shut him up.”

Both Congress and opposition members remarked that Manmohan Singh’s speech in English clearly smacked of an early parliamentary election.

In his more than hour long speech - a reply to a discussion on a thanks motion to President Pratibha Patil’s address to joint parliament session last week - Manmohan Singh said the Rs.600 billion loan waiver package announced in the union budget last week to clear the debt held by small farmers would be funded using tax and non-tax revenues.

On the contentious India-US civil nuclear deal, which was opposed by his communist allies as well as the opposition, Manmohan Singh said his government was seeking the “broadest possible consensus” to take the next step forward.

Asserting that India wants to live in peace with neighbouring countries, Manmohan Singh assured the new leadership of Pakistan that New Delhi seeks good relations with it. “We need to think about our collective destiny, our collective security, our collective prosperity.

“India wants to live in peace with Pakistan. The destinies of our two nations are interlinked. We need to put the past behind us.”

The prime minister also assured that he would make “another attempt to evolve a broad-based consensus” to push the long-awaited legislation to provide 33 percent reservation for women in parliament and legislative assemblies. “I have deep regret that we were not able to move it forward.”

He accused the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of failing to boost farm production and control inflation and of not meeting the challenges of internal security.

“I cannot forget the dark days when the parliament was attacked by terrorists,” he said, referring to the armed assault on the building in the heart of the capital in December 2001 that almost caused an India-Pakistan war.

“I don’t want to score points. But it was a shameful sight that our external affairs minister accompanied the terrorists,” he said, another reference to the flight BJP’s Jaswant Singh took to Afghanistan with three Pakistani terrorists India was forced to free after terrorists hijacked an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi.

Manmohan Singh also lampooned the opposition for shedding tears for the farming community.

“Today they are talking about farmers. I would like to see what did they do during their time (in power)?”

Reeling off statistics, the prime minister accused the BJP-led government that ruled India from 1998 to 2004 of increasing procurement prices by “a pittance”.

“This government,” he said, speaking about the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) he heads, “has increased it by 33 percent in rice and 56 percent in wheat”.

“NDA was anti-farmer, anti-agriculture sector. We have finally removed the burden on farmers that the NDA government had put. We will not rest until the tears of all the farmers are wiped away.”

A visibly upset Advani said in response: “Many issues (raised during the discussion) have not been touched. The comments about the NDA have been false and baseless, particularly on agriculture, inflation and internal security.

“And the prime minister did not say anything about how the government is handling the case of mastermind behind the (2001) parliament attack, Afzal Guru (the accused awaiting capital punishment in the case) and whether they (the government) is implementing the Supreme Court verdict,” the leader of the opposition said before he walked out of the Lok Sabha.

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