Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has taken his party's battle against demonetisation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home turf.
He tore into the narrative being offered by Modi on the note ban in a massive rally in Mehsana in north Gujarat. This rally comes exactly a year before Gujarat goes to the polls, and has major political relevance, given the fact that the state's heavyweights, including Modi, former Chief Minister Anandiben Patel and present Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel come from this part of the state.
It has also been the theatre of political unrest in the last couple of years.
Key points of the speech
Speaking for almost 45 minutes, Rahul focussed his speech entirely on the issue of demonetisation and black money.
He challenged Modi to explain the details in papers with the Income Tax Department, which show that the Sahara Group paid several crore rupees to Modi on nine occasions in six months from late 2013 onwards.
He also pointed to records that suggested payments to Modi from the Birla group.
"The country wants to know whether this is true. If yes, why there has been no probe into it for the last two and a half years? It is time that an independent investigation is carried out in the matter," he said, while claming that Modi was not ready to face him in Parliament.
Rahul came to the venue of the rally after paying obeisance at the temple of Umiya Mata, the presiding deity of Patels, at Unjha near Mehsana.
He began by saying that the Congress was ready to support the government on rooting out corruption, but the government move on demonetisation was neither aimed at tackling the menace of black money nor corruption.
"It is targeted against the 99% honest, hardworking and poor people. Black money is not with these 99% honest people, but with the 1% rich - or with 50 families," he said.
Attributing the figures to the ruling NDA government, he said that only 6% of black money was in cash form, while the remaining was in the form of real estate, gold, diamonds and foreign bank accounts.
"You have the list of Swiss Bank account holders. Why have you not produced it in Parliament? Why are you trying to save them?" he said.
Drawing parallels with the Second World War, he accused the Modi government of fire-bombing the Indian masses through the demonetisation policy.
"The truth of demonetisation is that the government wants to trap the money of the poor in the banks to waive off the debts of the rich. Its motto is 'garibon se kheencho, ameeron ko seencho' (draw from the poor, irrigate the rich)," Rahul underlined, while hitting out at the Modi government for constantly changing the narratives on demonetisation from black money to corruption, terrorism, fake currency, and later, a cashless economy.
Rahul quoted Gujarat's Leader of the Opposition, Shankersinh Vaghela, saying that the Prime Minister is a mega event master, who can make an event out of anything, and these events are meticulously planned.
The Gandhi scion claimed that by promoting a cashless economy, Modi was indirectly favouring companies who would get hefty commission through these transactions.
He raised farmers' issues, pointing out that under the Modi regime, farmers have been committing suicides in various parts of the country, and there has been no redressal of their demands on loan waiver, adequate power supply, and a rational Minimum Support Price (MSP).
"Tribals fighting for their land, water and other rights are being shot. Labourers are being made fun of. In Gujarat, the atrocities against Dalits continue, and they continue to live in fear. The Patidars, who were agitating peacefully, had their women and children beaten up. This is the truth of Modi's government," he said.
He accused the Modi government of dividing the country into the rich versus the rest, and said its policies favoured these 1% rich, who possessed 60% of the country's wealth.
He reminded Modi of the promises he had made in the run up to the last Lok Sabha polls with regards to development and employment. Rahul said government reports themselves stated that employment generation under Modi had been the worst in the last seven years. He also pointed to the decline in the construction, engineering, diamond and textile industries in Gujarat after demonetisation.
Significance of the location
Organising a rally in Modi's backyard at this point of time was a clever move by the Congress. With less than a year to go for the next Assembly polls, the rally set the tone for the ensuing electoral battle.
Second, the Congress is obviously trying to cash in on the resentment among the people of the region against the BJP. The Patels are agitated over the fact that while Anandiben Patel was removed from the post of Chief Minister, the party chose to make Vijay Rupani, a Jain Vaniya from Saurashtra, her successor, ruling out Nitin Patel.
The Patels have always wanted a greater share in the political pie under the BJP's rule and they have been getting that till now.
North Gujarat has also been the epicentre of the Patel agitation for reservation in educational institutions and government jobs.
Congress heavyweights like Vaghela and Madhusudan Mistry also come from this region. A rally at this time might serve to galvanise the party cadres and set the agenda for the Assembly polls one year down the line.
It will also ensure that the party is not caught napping, even if the BJP chooses to go in for a snap poll, as is being predicted by a small section of observers.
Interestingly, the BJP's core voter base of Gujarati traders is also getting restive about demonetisation. Simmering anger is visible across the sections of society, particularly those into business and lower sections earning their bread on daily basis.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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