Over three years after his party was routed in the Lok Sabha elections, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday admitted that a certain amount of arrogance had crept into the party midway during UPA II which ended the culture of conversation. He said the vision that the party had laid out in 2004 too was designed at best for a decade.
“Any party which is in power in India for ten years will run into a problem. It is natural. The vision that we had laid out in 2004 was designed at best for a ten-year period. And it was pretty clear that the vision that we had laid out in 2004. By the time we arrived in 2010-11, it was not working anymore,” Gandhi said during a question and answer session after addressing the students of the University of California, Berkeley.
He described the Congress as a “conversation”. “The way we design policies, a vision is not by standing up there and saying ‘listen this is what I think I am going to tell you or I am going to do’. We design a vision by having a conversation. But somewhere around 2012 a certain arrogance crept into the Congress party and they stopped having that conversation.”
Gandhi said rebuilding the Congress requires designing a vision that India can use going forward. He added that the BJP government has borrowed the central architecture of its schemes from the UPA government, citing NREGA and the GST as examples. “But that architecture doesn’t work. We know it because it has stopped working.”
“But the main thing is that India has unleashed 400-500 million people. It is not good enough for us to say that we are not going to give them a vision. It can’t be done. Because if you don’t give them a vision, then you enter a very dangerous space. And really what has happened is that if you look at India from about 2012 — and we are to blame for at least two to three years of that — India has basically lost its vision,” he said.
Gandhi, who appeared confident, took on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Asked about the perception that he was a ‘reluctant’ politician, Gandhi attributed it to “a BJP machine” consisting of around thousand people sitting on computers and spreading information about him. “They tell you I am reluctant, I am stupid; they tell you all these things. You have seen me now, you can make up your mind,” he added.
He reiterated, “But realise, there is a tremendous machine and all they do is to spread abuse about me. And the operation is basically run by the gentleman who is running our country.”
On dynastic politics in the Congress, he said, “Most parties in India have that problem. So don’t give us stick because Akhilesh Yadav is a dynast. Stalin is a dynast. (Prem Kumar) Dhumal’s son is a dynast, even Abhishek Bachchan is a dynast. That is how India runs.”
“But saying that, I do try to sort of change it in the Congress. If you look at the Congress, there is a large number of people who are not from dynastic families at all. I can name them in every state.” He added that the real question is whether the person is actually capable. “Is the person a sensitive person? That is the question,” Gandhi said.
Also read | Highlights from Rahul Gandhi’s speech
Asked whether he was ready to take charge of an executive role in the Congress, Gandhi said he was ready to do it. “But the way our party works, we have an organisational election process which decides that. And that process is currently ongoing. We have an internal system where we elect certain delegates to make that decision. So for me to say that that decision is mine that wouldn’t be very fair. That is a decision that the Congress party has to make.”
Asked whether he was open to it, he replied, “Yes sure.”
On navigating the young and the old in the party, Gandhi said his earlier approach to push young people, but it has changed. “I still believe that as many young people as possible should be pushed forward. But there is tremendous talent with some of our senior people. It is really unfair to say that just because you happen to be slightly old, we are not going to utilise you. So it is a mix; it is trying to make both young and old work together. You know how India works.”
Asked about corruption in India and the fact that the Congress government had to face several corruption charges, Gandhi said, “One of the things we did was to bring in the Right to Information (RTI). RTI massively increased transparency. So a lot of the problem that we faced was actually because of a massive increase in transparency that we created which Mr Modi has shut down.”
Gandhi alleged that the Prime Minister has “clamped down on the RTI”. He said, “The amount of information which was flying around during our time is simply not flying around.”
Gandhi also said, “Corruption happens because of arbitrary centralised power. You have to crack arbitrary centralised power, you have to decentralise power. Unless you decentralise power, you have not going to take on corruption.”
Asked to spell out things he wished the government could improve on and areas where the government was doing well, Gandhi said, “I am an opposition leader, but Modi is also my Prime Minister. Modi has certain skills; he is a very good communicator, probably much better than me. He understands how to give a message to three or four different groups in a crowd. So his messaging ability is very subtle but very effective.”
“What I sense is that Modi doesn’t converse with the people he works with. They, even MPs of the BJP, come to me and tell me that. I think it would be good if he speaks to the people who work with him. There is lot of information that the Opposition for example has and he is not really interested in that input.”
On the aspects that the government has done well in, he said, “I like the concept of Make in India. However, while the orientation of Make in India is big business and a lot of it is defence, I would focus on small and medium businesses. Big businesses in India already have a lot of play.”
Gandhi added, “I would carve out a space for small and medium businesses and bring in experts to help transform them into global companies.” Gandhi also appreciated the government’s Swachh Bharat scheme.
Disagreeing with the government’s foreign policy, Gandhi said it is making India “vulnerable”. Echoing the china encircling theory, he said the Chinese are now in Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Maldives. “In a lot of these places, there were tactical mistakes. The Nepal blockade was a tactical mistake. You basically lost Nepal. In the (government’s) basic direction I agree, but don’t isolate India because it gets dangerous.”