Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi wrapped up his two-week visit to the United States conducting a series of meetings and interactions with business leaders, students and members of the expatriate community. Across different events, Gandhi spoke on a range of issues including the economy, jobs, domestic incidents of violence and foreign policy. He did not restrain himself from criticising prime minister Narendra Modi and the BJP-led government even as he admitted lapses on the part of the Congress.
Here’s a recap of what Gandhi said during his interactions at some of these events:
University of California, Berkeley
One of the striking features of Gandhi’s interaction with students at Berkeley was his frank admission that a “certain amount of arrogance” had crept into the Congress midway through UPA II, and it had stopped having “conversations with people.” He said that the vision of the UPA government formed in 2004 had a ‘sell-by date’ of 10 years and that it ‘already not working’ by 2010-11.
Post his lecture on ‘India At 70: Reflections On The Path Forward’, during a question-answer session, Gandhi to a question on dynastic politics said, “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…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.”
Gandhi signalled that he was ready to take charge of an executive role in the Congress adding that organisational elections were underway. At the same event, Gandhi said PM Modi is a ‘very good communicator, probably much better than me.’
During his lecture on India, Gandhi said, “At independence, most of our 400 million people were hungry. Yet the achievements of India have been significant. Increasing literacy, expanding healthcare and raising life expectancy, all within a generation. Achieving self-sufficiency in food grains, averting famine, pushing huge advantage in science and technology, even being a front-runner in computer technology.”
On the subject of jobs and unemployment, he quipped, “No amount of growth is enough for India if it’s not accompanied by the creation of jobs. It doesn’t matter how fast you grow. If you are not creating jobs, you are not actually solving the problem. So the central challenge of India is jobs. Roughly 12 million young people, 12 million, enter the Indian job market every year. Nearly 90 per cent of them have a high school education or less. India is a democratic country and unlike China, it has to create jobs in a democratic environment.”
One of the central themes of Gandhi’s interaction at Princeton University was the economy and jobs. The Congress leader said it was imperative for the Indian government to ensure blue-collar jobs for its people as nearly 30,000 youngsters are joining the job market every day.
“I don’t think automation will take away jobs. Nature of the jobs will change and the structure of jobs will change,” he said.
“There is a large part of our population that simply do not have jobs and cannot see a future. And, so they are feeling pain. And they have supported these type of leaders,” said Gandhi, hinting at PM Modi and President Donald Trump.
He also made sure to speak about China’s growth model and how it will impact the world.
“They (China) have chosen their path and we have chosen our path. But there is cooperation and competition. We have to figure out how to get our jobs. We have to basically compete with China and frankly we are not doing that well,” he said.
Gandhi appreciated one of PM Modi’s flagship projects – ‘Make in India’ but said the scheme should be aimed at small and medium businesses. “Not many small and medium businesses are getting access to finance or to the legal system or the political system. The small companies that should be turning into large is not happening. If Make in India is implemented well, it is a powerful idea,” he remarked.
On Congress’ road ahead, Gandhi said his party would focus on jobs, healthcare, education and agricultural sector. “And we are going to build that vision not top down but bottom up…by asking students, other stakeholders on how we deal with these problems,” said the Congress leader.
Address to NRIs in New York
Some of the subjects that Gandhi had not explored in previous speeches found mention in the address to NRIs. On the subject of intolerance, he quipped that India’s image of being harmonious and peace-loving was being questioned as of late.
“There are forces in our country that are dividing the country and it is very dangerous, for it ruins our reputation abroad. In a violent world, many countries are looking at India to find answers for a peaceful and harmonious co-existence, as India has done for many years. We need to maintain this challenge by building a unified approach by bringing people together,” he said.
On the farmer crisis in the country, Gandhi said empowerment of farmers was necessary for growth in the agricultural sector.
‘We need to develop a cold chain, put food processing units close to farms so that the produce does not rot. There are people from Punjab here, you will understand exactly what I am saying,” he said.
Jobs, a regular feature of Gandhi’s addresses, along with empowerment of the youth also found mention in his speech to the NRIs. He spoke about the intense demand for jobs as thousands of young job-seekers enter the market every year.
Around 2,000 people attended the event at a hotel near Times Square in New York.