In Rahul Gandhi, Mahua Moitra's Fiery Speeches, a Glimpse of a Spirited Opposition

As bold as they were theatrical, Rahul Gandhi and Mahua Moitra's speeches did more than just criticise the Narendra Modi government.

New Delhi: In a single week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has had to face two of the most fiery speeches from opposition leaders in the parliament.

Soon after the prime minister used his reply to the Motion of Thanks on the President’s address to make the now infamous “andolanjeevi” remark to take down his critiques, Trinamool Congress’s Mahua Moitra took on the Union government in a dramatic speech. In it, Moitra spared no rhetoric to slam Modi’s government for pursuing what she believed was an unending pursuit of autocratic policies. 

On Thursday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi – in one of his boldest speeches yet – doubled the attack. Gandhi used the time for discussing the Union Budget to talk solely about the new farm laws, and how it could affect farmers, labourers, and multiple other stakeholders in the agrarian economy, like small traders and shopkeepers, and middlemen. 

That both MPs were critical of the Centre was already known. 

What was crucial, however, was that both the opposition leaders used the platform of the parliament to launch a full-fledged onslaught against the Modi government at a time when the farmers’ movement, too, has been spreading deep and wide.

While Moitra listed out a range of highhanded decisions taken by the government, and its systematic use of pressure tactics to dilute the autonomy of  the judiciary, executive, and other institutions, Gandhi asserted, once again, that it was cronyism that was driving the Modi government.  

Since the Modi-led BJP has itself reduced parliamentary discussions into a game of optics to score against the opposition, the no-holds-barred speeches by the two opposition leaders immediately took some sheen off the image-savvy Prime Minister’s emotional address earlier this week.

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More importantly, at the end of the week, the opposition could drive home the larger point of its attack.

The “andolanjeevi” remark was adequately countered by Gandhi’s “Hum do, hamare do”, a reference through which the Congress leader emphasised Modi and Amit Shah’s close links with the corporate houses of Adani and Ambani. That Gandhi was repurposing his own party’s old slogan for the slam added to the bite of the comment.

Gandhi’s jibe, a rather sure-footed one at that, came on the heels of Moitra’s attack in which she repeatedly played up her remark that the BJP and its leaders were mere “cowards” and were using pressure tactics against their critics, the sedition cases against senior journalists being the latest in the loop. 

“There is a fundamental difference between cowardice and courage. The coward is brave only when armed with power and authority. The truly courageous can fight even when unarmed,” she said, while speaking about the recent deployment of Uttar Pradesh police to take action against protesting farmers in Ghazipur

“You are not being courageous. You are a coward wielding power. The truly brave came in droves from village wielding nothing but a belief that their cause is just,” she said, while talking about the government’s recent actions to restrict free speech.

Gandhi, on Thursday, similarly emphasised that this government is not for its people but the two corporates who have allegedly benefitted the most under the Modi regime. 

Both the leaders defied constant heckling from the treasury benches and the chair’s repeated requests to exercise restraint. 

In their parliament performance, the two leaders had flair reminiscent of Modi himself. Perhaps the political opposition had seen merit in slamming the government in its own language.

The renewed energy, perhaps driven by an unprecedented farmers’ movement, culminated in a rare concerted attack on the Modi government by its opposition.

The leaders were amply helped by their colleagues amidst heckling by the treasury benches. While Moitra spoke, other opposition leaders stood up on her behalf to protest against BJP MPs who were interrupting her. Similarly, as Gandhi was being constantly interrupted by saffron party legislators, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and TMC’s Saugata Roy stood up to read up specific rules that allowed him to speak. 

The opposition has clearly gained momentum, while the Centre is facing its worst crisis at the moment. Over the last six years, never have the lines between the opposition and the government been visible quite so clearly. 

On one end was the Modi government, whose defence was mounted on an aggressive advocacy for greater privatisation.

And on the other was an opposition seen as siding with protesting multitudes, the unemployed, and the poor, while asserting the need for inclusive economic growth. Given the debate last week on the floor of the parliament, it appears that the “andolandjeevi” versus “hum do, hamare do” contest is here to stay.