Over three years after his party’s defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi admitted on Tuesday that a “certain amount of arrogance” had crept into the party midway through UPA II, and it had stopped having “conversations with people”. Responding to a question on dynastic politics, Rahul said “that is how India runs”, and made it clear that he was ready to take over as the Congress president.
Speaking at the University of California, Berkeley, Rahul also admitted that the UPA’s 2004 vision had a ‘sell-by date’ of 10 years, and it “was already not working” by 2010-11.
“Most parties in India have that problem (dynastic politics). So, don’t give us the stick… 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,” said Rahul, during the question-and-answer session after his lecture on ‘India At 70: Reflections On The Path Forward’.
“Don’t get after me because that is how the entire country is running. By the way, last I recall, Ambani’s kids were running their business and that was also going on in Infosys. That is what happens in India,” he said, adding that he was trying to change this practice in the Congress.
Asked if he was ready to take charge of an executive role in the Congress, he said, “I am absolutely ready to do that. But the way our party works, we have an organisational election process that decides that… That is a decision that the Congress party has to make.” Asked whether he was open to it, he said, “yes, sure.”
While Rahul criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s politics and policies, he also had a word of praise for him. “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 and very effective,” he said. He, however, said Modi “doesn’t converse with the people he works with”, adding that BJP MPs had told him that he (Modi) “doesn’t listen (sunte nahin)”.
To a question on rebuilding the party, he said: “Any party in India that is in power for 10 years will run into a problem. It is just natural…The vision that we had laid out in 2004 was designed, at best, for a 10-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 already not working.”
He said that unlike the BJP and RSS, the Congress believes in conversation. “Somewhere around 2012, and I will say this, a certain arrogance crept into the Congress party and they stopped having that conversation,” he said.
“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,” said Rahul. Arguing that the BJP government had borrowed its central architecture from the UPA, he said: “But that architecture doesn’t work. We know it because it has stopped working.”
He accused Modi of promoting divisive politics, creating space for terrorism in Kashmir by joining hands with the PDP, and ruining the economy through demonetisation and a hastily-implemented GST. But, Rahul said, he liked Modi’s other initiatives like Make in India, adding that its orientation should be towards small and medium businesses, Clean India, and endorsed the “basic direction” of his foreign policy. He, however, criticised the policy vis-a-vis the immediate neighbourhood, arguing that China has ensured its presence in many neighbouring countries.
Rahul said the idea of non-violence is under attack in India today. “Hatred, anger and violence and the politics of polarisation has raised its ugly head in India today. Violence and hatred distract people from the task at hand. Liberal journalists being shot, people being lynched because they are Dalits, Muslims, killed on suspicion of eating beef, this is new in India and damages India very badly. The politics of hate divides and polarises India, making millions of people feel that they have no future in their own country. In today’s connected world, this is extremely dangerous. It isolates people and makes them vulnerable to radical ideas,” he said.
Asked about the perception that he was a reluctant politician, Rahul said, “There is a BJP machine… about a thousand guys sitting on computers… they basically tell you about me. They tell you I am reluctant, I am stupid… They tell you all these things… And all they do is spread abuse about me. And the operation is basically run by the gentleman who is running our country.”
On the 1984 riots, Rahul said he condemned the violence. “And I fully support any action that is taken against anybody who is carrying out violence. In fact, I am with them in their quest for justice, 100 per cent,” he said. “And if there is anything I can do to help them get justice, I am the first person who will do it,” he added.