PTI Ambikapur, Chhattisgarh, India
Nov 16, 2018, 11.15 PM
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday challenged the Congress to make someone from outside the Gandhi family its chief for at least five years if it respected democracy, as he returned the Congress' barb that a 'chaiwala' could rise to power only because of democratic systems established by Pandit Jawahal Lal Nehru.
In an apparent attack on Gandhis, Modi also said that the family whose "four generations ruled the country" cannot fathom how can the son of a poor mother could sit on the "rajgaddi" (throne).
Addressing a poll rally here in Surguja district for the second phase of Chhattisgarh assembly elections scheduled for November 20, Modi also hit back at the Congress for questioning demonetisation, saying the move "still rankles" them as the money "stashed under beds and in sacks" was taken away in a single stroke.
While the BJP has been ruling Chhattisgarh for 15 continuous years, the Congress was in power in the state only for three years after the state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000. Traditionally, the two national parties have had a direct fight in this state, although a third force as emerged this time in form of an alliance between the parties of former Congress chief minister Ajit Jogi and of Dalit leader Mayawati.
Modi asked Congress to give account of what the four generations of the (Gandhi) family did for the nation before asking for an account of his government's four-and-half years' rule.
"Four generations of the Congress ruled the counry, but they have nothing to tell the people. We are everyday giving an account of what we have done in the last four years," he said.
"They (Congress leaders) are saying it was due to a great person, due to Pandit Nehru, that a 'chaiwala' (tea seller) became the prime minister," Modi said.
"If you so much respect the democracy, do a small thing. If you claim that because of your principles, your faith in democracy, the Constitution and Pandit Nehru, Modi, a chaiwala, could become the PM, appoint someone good from outside the (Gandhi) family as the Congress president for just five years," he said.
"If this happens, I will accept that Nehru ji created such a democratic system because of which anyone, (even) a dedicated Congressman outside the family could become the Congress chief," he said.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor had said that it was due to the institutional structures created by Nehru that even a "chaiwala" could become India's prime minister. His party colleague Mallikarjun Kharge had also said earlier that a "chaiwala" could become the prime minister as the Congress preserved democracy.
Sitaram Kesri had served as the Congress president in the 1990s, but his tenure from September 1996 to March 1998 was less than five years.
Rahul Gandhi is currently president of the Congress party, while the post was held by his mother Sonia Gandhi before that. A Congress president mostly gets a three-year term, though there have been exceptions.
Continuing his barbs at the Gandhi family, Modi said the "contract of democracy" in the country was not given to one family, but they felt the Britishers had named India after it.
"They still keep crying that how could a chaiwala sit (on the PM's chair). How could he? They still cannot fathom how come the son of a poor mother could sit on the throne" he said.
Stating that such people cannot understand difficulties faced by the poor, but a chaiwala can, he said the credit for making a 'chaiwala' the prime minister goes to 125 crore Indians and not to Modi or the BJP.
The PM also took on Rahul Gandhi for attacking him over demonetisation, saying only one "family" is "crying" over the note-ban exercise.
"No one from those sitting here (in the rally) is crying over demonetisation, but only one family is crying. Their (Gandhis) associates lost their illegally earned money filled in bags, hidden inside their bed and pillow after demonetisation," the prime minister said.
Modi also said Chhattisgarh was created peacefully during the tenure of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in contrast to violence during agitations for bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh under the Congress rule.
He said the BJP is the only unbiased party and it is guided by the mantra of 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas', while the Congress kept the country in dark with lies that are ingrained in their minds.
Rahul Gandhi is currently president of the Congress party, while the post was held by his mother Sonia Gandhi before that.