Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s enthusiasm for empowerment of women and a culture of open dialogue in a democracy got a thumbs-up from second and third-year students at an all-women’s college in Bengaluru Wednesday, but his pessimistic view of the central government’s Swachh Bharat and Make in India campaigns received a blowback.
Talking to students at Mount Carmel College, Rahul said, “Even though the BJP has come to power, I don’t see a strategy. I see a lot of talk. I see a lot of talk on clean your country. Are we serious? Clean your country, is it working? I don’t see it working. You see it working?” To his visible surprise, a majority of students enthusiastically said “yes”.
When he asked if Make in India was working, many students said yes, too. They were, however, more effusive in their agreement with Rahul when he said not many jobs had been created.
Watch Video: Why Rahul Gandhi’s Speeches Lack The Punch
Rahul zeroed in on the college, run by Christian nuns, as part of his effort to understand issues related to women empowerment, said second-year student Poornima Nambiar. Before his visit, he said, he had had discussions with eminent alumni such as former Indian ambassador Nirupama Rao and Biocon’s Kiran Shaw.
“Carrying out physical violence on a woman because you don’t appreciate what she does is not acceptable in this country and that is something I will contest and fight for,” Rahul said, referring to incidents of women being beaten up for going to pubs. “Whether she goes to a pub or does not go to a pub, that is her decision and her problem. She has the intelligence to know what is good for her,” he said.
“What is the difference between the RSS, the BJP and us? There are numerous differences, but there is one central difference from our perspective — we want to give space to every single person in this room. Even if we do not agree with the idea of that person. We want to give them the space to talk and we want to be able to listen to them and say we don’t agree with you.” Arunima Chakraborty, a second-year student, was among the few who agreed with Rahul on Swachh Bharat. “The majority of students did not agree but I shouted to say it is not working… Most students agreed that Make In India has not created jobs,” she said.
Second-year student Karthika Namboothiri, who organised the event, said, “He was trying to say public funds are being used for Swachh Bharat, which is not working very well. He asked students, do you see any change from the campaign, and the majority said yes. He was taken aback.”
Rahul also made a reference to the “intolerance” debate and added that he supported actor Aamir Khan.
“To me, the biggest strength of this country is live and let live. We have thousands of communities, millions of people, different castes, different religions, different languages. The only way to continue living peacefully is if all of us have a dialogue, if all of us keep the conversation going and none of us is under the mistaken belief that we have all the answers for India,” he said.
Taking on the central government, he said, “If you look at our political system today, very few people have decision-making powers. In the central government today, and I say it with certainty, there is only one man who takes every single decision. It can’t possibly be that one man has all the answers. I am for dialogues, for discussion, for opening of ideas to people.”
“No matter how smart you are, how intelligent you are, you live in a society and you are only going to be successful if you listen to people around you, work with the people around you, appreciate people around you and carry people around you,” he added. The Congress leader said his party is keen to have a discussion on GST and other important bills in Parliament in the winter session if the ruling BJP is willing to engage in discussions.
“The main role of the opposition is to have a conversation. Our problem is that the BJP does not have a conversation. We want a conversation on GST but it has not struck them till today to have a conversation with us,” he said.
“We think GST is important. The approach has to be reaching out. Our PM Manmohan Singh, whenever there was something to be discussed, picked up the phone and called the leader of opposition. The PM has not done it once,” said Rahul.
“We have a number of issues to raise in Parliament. The issue of intolerance. The PM’s silence on the issue is very disturbing. GST is part of the conversation. There are other issues as well,” he said.