On Nehru row, PM Modi dares Congress to make ‘outsider’ party’s chief
His remarks came three days after United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of “undermining the legacy” of Nehru
Prime Minister Narendra Modi dared the Congress on Friday to choose someone from outside the Gandhi family as its president for five years, saying he would then accept that India’s first PM Jawharlal Nehru truly left behind a legacy of democracy.
“I want to challenge them…let some good leader of Congress outside the Gandhi family become the party president for only five years, then I will say that Nehruji really created a truly democratic system,” Modi, who has often attacked the Congress for deifying the Nehru-Gandhi family, said at a rally in Chhattisgarh’s Ambikapur.
His remarks came three days after United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of “undermining the legacy” of Nehru.
She had also urged people to honour the late leader by fighting with determination to safeguard democracy.
“Nehru’s precious legacy is being undermined daily by those who rule us today. They express disdain and contempt for Nehru for all that he did to build the India that they are bent upon changing for the worse,” she said in her address at the launch of the new edition of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s 2003 book ‘Nehru: The Invention of India’ on November 13, the eve of Nehru’s birth anniversary.
At the same function, in a remark directed at Modi, Tharoor said that if a ‘chaiwala’ (tea-seller) could become prime minister of India, it was because Nehru created the institutional structures through which any Indian can aspire to rise to the highest office in the land.
Modi has in the past accused the Congress of practising dynastic politics and of exalting members of the Nehru-Gandhi family at the expense of other leaders such as Sardar Patel, to whom he dedicated a 182-metre statue, the world’s tallest, in his (and Patel’s) home state of Gujarat , on October 31.
Sonia Gandhi was president of the Congress party between March 1998 and December 2017, when she was succeeded by her son Rahul Gandhi.
On Friday, Modi reacted to Tharoor’s remark without naming him. Modi said the Congress had still not come to terms with the fact that he is prime minister more than four years after he rose to the nation’s highest executive office by leading the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a majority in the Lok Sabha on its own.
“They are still crying, how can a ‘chaiwala’ become PM? Now they say a ‘chaiwala’ became PM because of one great person,” said Modi, who was in Chhattisgarh to campaign for the BJP ahead of the second phase of state assembly elections on November 20.
After Modi, then a prime ministerial candidate, revealed that he sold tea at a railway station when he was a boy to help his family make ends meet, Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar referred to him as ‘chaiwala’ ahead of the 2014 general elections. Modi and his BJP parlayed this into a campaign issue by launching “chai pe charcha” or conversations over tea where Modi and other leaders informally met voters over tea.
The PM said that the Congress was not willing to give credit to the BJP and himself for ending dynastic politics. “This is the result of their undemocratic thinking. For this too, they want to give credit to Nehru,” he said.
The PM said the Congress was to blame for the underdevelopment of the country, “Congress nationalised banks in the name of poor, but what is the reason that the poor did not have any access to banks? What is the reason that the poor did not have even a bank account? When we came to power, we empowered the poor, opened their bank accounts,” he said, referring to the financial inclusion drive his government has spearheaded.
Reacting to Modi’s remarks, the Congress said he should read history.
“Firstly, who is Modi ji to decide the Congress president? It is the (Congress) worker who will decide the president. Secondly, Modi is misleading people as Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Pandit Mandan Mohan Malviya , Sardar Patel , Jagjeevan Ram and many others (outside of the Nehru-Gandhi family) were Congress presidents … Modi ji should read history first,” said RP Singh, senior Congress leader and party spokesperson.
In the second and final phase of polling in Chhattisgarh on November 20, 72 seats are up for grabs. Eighteen seats went to the polls on November 12. Assembly elections are also due to take place in Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana.
First Published: Nov 16, 2018 23:18:26