Accused by the Congress of not recognising its leaders' contribution, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday launched a stinging counter-attack, saying the party cannot see beyond the Gandhi family and it has been "flying so high" that it has got disconnected from the country's roots.
In his first speech in Parliament after his reelection, Modi said Congress members did not even mention former prime minister Manmohan Singh's work in their speeches in Lok Sabha during the two-day debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President's address.
In his hour-long reply, which was later passed by a voice vote, Modi also called upon lawmakers to rise above partisan politics to build a new and modern India, saying the country is more important than politics.
He, however, was unsparing in his criticism of the Congress, and targeted it for not recognising the contributions of leaders outside the Gandhi-Nehru family, missing opportunities to empower Muslim women and "crushing India's soul" by imposing Emergency, whose anniversary fell on Tuesday.
Modi quoted a former minister in the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government, which brought a law to overrule the Supreme Court ruling on the Shah Bano case to placate Muslims, as recently saying its leaders claimed that it was not the duty of their party to uplift Muslims and "if they want to lie in gutter let them be".
His remarks drew sharp protests from the Congress, prompting Modi to say he will send them a YouTube link of the interview.
Congress has missed many chances to empower Muslim women and it has got one more opportunity, he said, in a reference to the triple talaq bill.
Turning the tables on Congress after its leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said Modi can't diminish his party's "high" stature, the PM said it became so high that it lost connect with the country's roots and that "the higher you become, the happier I will be."
"So busy were they with delusions of soaring high that they forgot to remain rooted to the ground. So busy were they soaring that they thought anyone on the ground is lowly and dirty. We have no such desire to soar. We are happy grounded, rooted and with our people," he said.
Mocking the Congress, Modi said he is being cursed for not putting its leaders in jail, an apparent reference to its top leaders Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, and then retorted that at least they are on bail and "enjoying themselves".
In his speech on Monday, Chowdhury had attacked the government over its criticism on the alleged 2G and coal scams, saying if Congress leaders were involved in corruption, then why Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were sitting in Parliament and not in jail.
Modi's reference to bail was a reference to the court's grant of bail to the two top Congress leaders in the National Herald case.
The PM said his government's fight against corruption will continue and asserted it will not work with vendetta and it was for courts to send the accused to jail.
"Some members asked—why is person A not in jail or person B not in jail. I want to tell them—this is not Emergency where governments jailed people as it felt like. These decisions are taken by courts. Courts will decide on jail and bail," he said.
Targeting the Congress, he said his dispensation gave Bharat Ratna to veteran Congress leader and former president Pranab Mukherjee, but the opposition party couldn't think about bestowing the same honour to former prime ministers and its leaders like P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh.
"Thus far and no further," he said in English, asking Congress to not repeat this charge again.
Modi pointed out that he has acknowledged contributions of all prime ministers and prominent leaders in India's development.
Did the Congress government during 2004-14 ever recognise the Vajpayee government's work, he asked, adding it didn't acknowledge even the Rao government's contributions.
"Your leaders in their speeches during the debate did not even mention Manmohan Singh," he said.
Noting that it was the Emergency's 44th anniversary on Tuesday, Modi said it trampled over the spirit of the Constitution, gagged the media and bullied the judiciary.
He also quoted first PM Jawaharlal Nehru, who has often been at the receiving end of his criticism in the past, describing him as a great and asking MPs to work together to create a sense of duty in society as envisaged by the Congress stalwart.
BJP's win in the Lok Sabha polls with a bigger mandate than 2014 shows people approved of its work after testing it on all parameters."We didn't not divert from our development path, we didn't dilute our development agenda," he said.
Modi said in 2014, people voted for the BJP as they wanted to give him a chance and also get rid of the Congress-led UPA, but this time, they backed his government's work.
With his pet project Make in India often questioned by opposition for its output, he said it's the need of the hour. "Let it be our collective endeavour to make India a five trillion dollar economy," he said.
Modi said his government had taken a number of important decisions since coming to power last month for a second term.
Invoking the upcoming 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, whom he described as the country's greatest inspiration, and the 75th anniversary of India's freedom in 2022, he asked lawmakers to rise above politics and party lines to build a new and modern India.