Modi, Gandhi Face Off in India Parliament Over Religious Tension

(Bloomberg) -- India’s main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party of spreading violence and hate in a fiery standoff between the two rivals in the parliament Monday.

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Gandhi, who became the parliament’s first leader of the opposition in a decade after his party almost doubled its number of seats in the lower house, criticized Modi for espousing religious ideals, yet being divisive.

Gesturing to the benches where members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party were seated, Gandhi said “they call themselves Hindu but for 24 hours a day, they talk of violence and hatred.” As BJP leaders began protesting loudly against the remarks, Gandhi told them “You are not Hindu.”

Modi responded directly to Gandhi’s comments, standing up and telling lawmakers “it is an issue of concern that the entire Hindu community has been called violent.”

Gandhi’s speech, which was a formal response to the president’s address to the parliament last week, shows the opposition is flexing its muscle in a parliament that’s been dominated by the BJP in the past decade, with bills often passed without much debate. The opposition alliance, led by Gandhi’s Indian National Congress, won about 230 of the 543 seats in the lower house of parliament, with the Congress party gaining 99 seats on its own.

Modi’s BJP lost its majority in the parliament, winning 240 seats. The party was forced to stitch together a coalition government with allies to stake claim to the government.

The opposition alliance’s election campaign was focused on job creation, especially for young people, and improving the lives and welfare of poor, lower-caste Indians. Gandhi, 54, doubled down on those themes again in his speech Monday.

“The government can do whatever it wants but the youth of this country cannot get jobs,” he said. “The backbone to job creation is broken, finished and over.” Gandhi blamed the government’s poor policy decisions and their enforcement as the reason behind job losses in the country.

The opposition leader also criticized Modi for indulging in crony capitalism and favoring billionaires like Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani over the rest of the citizens. He also took the government to task for refusing to discuss in the parliament the controversy over alleged corruption and leaking of medical examination papers.

“What the government has come to represent today is untruth, a complete lack of courage and violence,” Gandhi said.

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