Addressing students at the prestigious University of California, Berkeley, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, on Monday (September 11), hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government while also speaking candidly on a range of other issues, including the existence of dynastic politics in India.
Expectedly, the BJP back home hasn’t reacted very warmly to the Nehru-Gandhi scion’s remarks, with Union ministers and several party leaders asserting that Rahul was simply “venting his frustration” and that his comments that “slammed India” on foreign soil were “deplorable”.
However, the substance of Rahul’s speech and his remarks during an interactive session with the students portray a certain maturity that the Congress vice president is seldom credited to have. Expectedly, much has been made out against a minor gaffe—something that has come to be expected from Rahul owing to his previous public record—which the Congress MP made when he claimed that the Lok Sabha has 546 seats (it has 545).
In his short 18-minute address at the University—a place where his great-grandfather and India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had also delivered a historic speech back in 1949—Rahul slammed the economic policies of the Modi government, criticising the Prime Minister’s decision on demonetisation and the “hasty” implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime in particular.
Rahul said: “Decisions like demonetization, which removed 86 per cent of cash from circulation, were taken unilaterally (by Modi), without asking the chief economic advisor or the Cabinet or even the Parliament, it (demonetisation) imposed a devastating cost… It cost us two percent loss in GDP. The government’s economic policies and the hastily applied GST can cause tremendous damage.”
The Congress vice president also outlined the Modi government’s failure in creating jobs for Indian youth and slammed the BJP regime for junking India’s ethos of peace and non-violence for “hatred, anger, violence and politics of polarisation”, which he said would “destroy India’s growth momentum” and “distract people from the task at hand”.
Gandhi also highlighted the lynching of Dalits, killing of Muslims over suspicion of them consuming beef and the shooting of liberal journalists (a reference to the recent murder of senior journalist Gauri Lankesh) to drive home his point about the rise in intolerance and hatred in India under Modi’s rule. All of this, Rahul said, was “new in India”.
While the BJP spokespersons Sambit Patra and GVL Narsimha Rao and union information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani have expectedly hit out at Rahul for criticizing India on foreign soil, the party has conveniently forgotten that while the Congress president has made these remarks at an interactive session with students and while being an Opposition leader, Modi had himself repeatedly slammed India and previous Congress government on various counts at events of much greater significance—all in the capacity of India’s Prime Minister.
If Rahul’s comments during his address largely focused at slamming the Modi government’s perceived economic failures, his remarks during an interactive session were candid, even self-deprecating.
Often called out, especially by the BJP, for his poor oratory skills and for being the torchbearer of dynastic politics, Gandhi almost pleaded guilty on both counts and even asserted that Modi was a “much better communicator” than him.
However, Rahul qualified his praise for Modi’s communication skills with an equal measure of criticism. “Modi has certain skills, he is a very good communicator, he’s much better than me. He knows how to give a message to 3-4 different groups in a crowd, so his messaging ability is very effective and subtle…but he doesn’t listen to people. What I sense is he doesn’t converse with the people he works with… members of Parliament and the BJP tell me that,” Rahul said.
On the issue of “dynasts” in India, while Rahul conceded that he was a result of the phenomenon, he also cited leaders from other political parties—BJP MP Anurag Thakur (son of former Himachal CM Prem Kumar Dhumal), DMK working president MK Stalin, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav—while also naming Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan and Reliance group’s billionaire industrialist “Mr Ambani”, to claim that “most of India runs like this”. The Congress vice president’s assertion that dynasty is a reality in all spheres of India—be it politics, films or industry—has also been criticised by the BJP while he was also trolled on Twitter for these remarks.
The Nehru-Gandhi scion also made it a point to highlight the “BJP machine” with “1,000 men sitting on computers” for what he called was an “operation run by the government that is running our country”. He said these 1,000 men (a reference to social media trolls) “spread abuse about me, say that I’m a reluctant politician, I’m stupid… that’s all they do.”