NEW DELHI: Capping a power-packed speech in which he attacked the government on multiple issues, from farmer distress to the Rafale jet deal, Congress president Rahul Gandhi today strode across the Lok Sabha to hug a surprised Narendra Modi in an extraordinary display of political gamesmanship during the no-trust debate.
Gandhi, who accused the government of lying to the nation, resorting to "jumla strikes" (gimmickry) and creating an unhealthy political debate, followed the hug with what appeared to be a wink, prompting a furious discussion about the appropriateness of his actions.
The optics of the day appeared to overshadow the words as the 48-year-old wrapped up his 20-minute speech by walking up to the prime minister, warmly shaking his hands and then bending down to give him a hug, taking almost everyone, including many in the treasury benches, by surprise.
The prime minister, who appeared to be flummoxed by Gandhi's gesture, called him back, shook his hands again and patted him while sporting a smile.
"This is what it means to be a Hindu," Gandhi said, sending out a subtle message to the ruling party, which has been accused of supporting radical outfits and elements involved in incidents of lynchings.
Sometimes forceful, sometimes smiling, Gandhi also used his speech from the Lok Sabha to reflect on the current political atmosphere, trying to convey that hatred and vitriol should not be part of the political discourse.
"You may think I have a lot of hatred for the BJP and Prime Minister Modi. But the truth is I am grateful to them. The BJP and the Modi-ji have helped me understand what it means to be with the Congress, what it means to be an Indian, what it means to be a Hindu and a devotee of Shiva," he said, amid noisy protests by BJP members.
Looking towards Modi, Gandhi added, "I have not an iota of hatred or hard feelings against you. You hate me, I maybe 'Pappu' for you. But I love you and respect you because I am the Congress."
Gandhi also tried to paint the RSS and BJP as agents of "anger and hatred"
"People are being beaten, Modiji doesn't say a word. Are Dalits, minorities and women not Indians? Don't they belong to India? Any attack on them is an attack on the Constitution framed by Babasaheb Ambedkar," he said.
In his address, Gandhi accused the government of lying to the nation on the Rafale fighter deal, resorting to gimmickry, deceiving farmers, surrendering India's interests along the country's borders with China and failing to bring back black money.
Gandhi accused the government of "lying" to the nation on the issue of sharing details of the Rafale jet deal and described Modi as a "bhagidaar" (collaborator) in cases of alleged corruption, not a "chowkidaar (guard).
Alleging corruption in the deal, the Congress has been demanding details, including cost of equipment and weapons, but the government has refused to share them, citing a secrecy pact with France.
"I personally met the French president and asked him if there is such a pact between the French and Indian governments. The French president told me that there is no such pact between the French and Indian governments," Gandhi said.
Gandhi claimed he was expressing the sentiments of a section of the ruling party also, as he attacked Modi and BJP president Amit Shah and asserted that the entire opposition and "some of your people (BJP)" will join hands to defeat them in the elections.
Modi and Shah were "different types of politicians" as they cannot afford to lose power unlike the Congress which is okay to losing it and being in and out of power, Gandh said.
"We are okay to lose power, be out of power. But they simply cannot afford to lose power. Because the moment they lose power, other processes will start against them," he said.