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Delivering his maiden speech in the Rajya Sabha on Monday afternoon, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Chief Amit Shah said the Centre’s ambitious National Health Protection Scheme, announced in the Union Budget 2018-19, will be officially known as ‘Modicare’. Initiating the debate on the ‘motion of thanks for the President’s address’, Shah responded to some of the criticism that the Narendra Modi government has faced in recent months, particularly on farm distress and employment generation. The BJP president, who was elected to the Rajya Sabha in August, detailed the various schemes as evidence of Modi government’s pro-poor policies, slammed the Congress for its criticism of the goods and services tax (GST) implementation and took on senior Congress leader P Chidambaram for comparing ‘pakoda sellers’ to beggars. ALSO READ: Why Modicare numbers just don't add up and may just remain on paper “It is better for the youth to earn a living selling pakodas instead of being unemployed. Making pakodas is not shameful, what is shameful is comparing such a person with a beggar,” he said and pointed out that a “chaiwala’s (tea-seller) son has become the Prime Minister (PM) today.” The PM was sitting in the front row adjacent to Shah’s. In his 1 hour 17 minute-long speech, the BJP leader covered several issues, including the need for discussion on simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls. Shah said the Modi government has uprooted the “three cancers” of “dynasty, casteism, and politics” that were plaguing India and realising the dream of a “New India”. From the Opposition, Leader of the Opposition, senior Congress leader, Ghulam Nabi Azad initiated the discussion. He expressed concern at the spate of rapes, including that of girls barely a year old, particularly in BJP-ruled states, like Haryana. Azad said the Modi government has polarised Hindus and Muslims, divided people on religious lines and was pursuing a different form of appeasement where only those of a particular political ideology were getting jobs and contracts. ALSO READ: Chidambaram's pakoda jibe backfires; Congress insulting the poor, says BJP Azad named several of the old schemes initiated by Congress-led governments since 1985, which he said have been renamed by the Modi government. He said the Modi government claims itself to be a “game changer”, but in reality was a “name changer”, proficient at “repackaging”. “Now, ‘old Bharat’ has become ‘New India’…but give us back that ‘old Bharat’, Gandhi’s Bharat, where communities were not polarised, where people didn’t live in fear, where small girls were not raped,” Azad said. Azad, a former Union health minister, said benefits of the new health scheme announced in the Budget would never reach patients, and it would only help insurance companies. He said the government should have instead focused on setting up and improving government hospitals and primary health centres. With the PM present in the House, Azad faulted the Centre for its “inconsistent” Kashmir policy and flagged how the “atmosphere of fear prevailing in the country”, “tapping of phones of politicians of rival political parties”, or their associates, and use of central probe agencies to “fix” people was not “healthy for democracy”. “You have painted us to be terrorists,” he said. ALSO READ: Chidambaram to BJP: Don't distort 'pakoda' quote and debate on jobs In his speech, the BJP chief, without mentioning Congress President Rahul Gandhi by name, criticised GST being termed ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’. He reminded the members that Gabbar Singh was the name of the dacoit in the Hindi movie Sholay. “Is a dacoity taking place here? Is legally claiming taxes from the people dacoity? Is this the understanding of the people? And where does this Gabbar Singh Tax/GST go? It goes into the bank accounts of jawan for giving One Rank, One Pension. It goes into the bank accounts of widows of martyrs. It goes towards giving the poor women clean cooking fuel,” he said and asked whether inciting people not to pay taxes was a symbol good politics. Shah bemoaned the politics Congress was indulging in by supporting the GST in the GST Council, but opposing it in the public. Shah highlighted how the Congress has never voted against the GST in the GST Council, and threatened to make the records of the council meeting public.
He asked whether the Congress was inciting people to not pay taxes.“Where are we taking the country? We will all have to think, this is not just a matter of one party. Today we are in power, tomorrow you may come. Yes, you can come. Our mindset is not such that we will remain in power till eternity. This is democracy, the citizens can vote anyone to power. You have also remained in power for 55 years. The country does not run like this. On certain issues, one has to rise above party politics for the country to run,” Shah said. ALSO READ: Modi's 'TOP' priority draws Congress' ridicule, BJP retorts 'classy' INC The BJP chief sought to dismiss the notion that BJP-ruled states had earlier opposed GST, when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had proposed the Bill. “The state governments did not trust because the UPA government brought this tax reform, reduced central sales tax from 4 per cent to 2 per cent, you (UPA) had to compensate states for the losses incurred by them. But you did not fulfil your promise. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government compensated Rs 370 billion to states,” Shah said, adding the states were not scared but worried over the losses on account of GST’s roll-out. Observing that GST was being projected as if small businesses will be shut, he assured that nothing of the sort will happen and said the small businesses and MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) will become stronger. The BJP president agreed that there are teething problems in the GST implementation due to the scale of the reform, but observed that the government was sensitive and said over 30 procedural changes were effected through the GST Council meetings. The prices of 400 items were reduced in the 23 Council meetings whereas 150 items made tax-free. On the issue of unemployment, he said the problem was persisting even after 55 years of Congress rule but so intense that eight years (of NDA rule) were not enough to resolve it. Shah referred to the initiatives taken by the government in this regard, including Skill India, Stand Up India, Start Up India, and MUDRA schemes. While appreciating the nationalisation of banks unleashed by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Shah said the doors of banks were not opened for the poor, which has been done now. Referring to the Ayushman Bharat scheme announced in the Budget to provide insurance cover of Rs 500,000 to 400-500 million people, the BJP president said no government had the courage till now to introduce a scheme of this scale, therefore the scheme has been christened ‘NaMo Healthcare’ by the people. Referring to the triple talaq legislation, Shah said Muslim women were battling for their rights in courts since last many years.