Exclusive | ‘Narendra Modi is obsessed with my family’: Rahul Gandhi

Hindustan Times, Bathinda | BySunetra Choudhury
May 10, 2019 12:48 PM IST

Congress president Rahul Gandhi denied that his father, the late former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, had gone for a holiday on a warship, a day after PM Modi alleged that the latter had used the INS Viraat as a “personal taxi” for family vacations.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday denied that his father, the late former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, had gone for a holiday on a warship, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleged that the latter had used the INS Viraat as a “personal taxi” for family vacations.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi(Virendra Singh Gosain/HT PHOTO)
Congress president Rahul Gandhi(Virendra Singh Gosain/HT PHOTO)

Rahul Gandhi also accused Modi, who has attacked Rajiv Gandhi for being “Bhrashtachari No1,” of taking refuge in the past because he had been “outmaneuvered, outflanked and cut down, as far as the present and the future are concerned. Edited excerpts:

Q. To an observer, it looks like there’s a change in your style.

I’ve always loved interacting with crowds. What was earlier perceived as non-enjoyment was actually introspection. When you introspect, you seem detached. Even aloof. I would sometimes introspect while surrounded by people. Now I don’t. Now I introspect when I’m sitting alone, never in public.

Q. Did that take a lot of self-training to do?

The last five years have taught me how not to get affected by negativity, abuses or even anger directed at me. So when Mr Modi says something nasty about me or my family, I have a good laugh about it! I don’t associate myself with his anger. I don’t react to it. The truth is, that anger is his and is harming only him. It only does damage to me when I grab it and embrace it. I refuse to do that.

Q. (Telugu Desam Party chief) N Chandrababu Naidu has said that the way the PM is speaking has never happened in politics before. That in our culture we don’t disrespect the dead.

Actually, that’s not true. The RSS {Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh} disrespected Gandhiji many times. Mahatma Gandhiji was probably the single best expression of this country’s voice, yet some people worshipped his assassin and even built a temple to honour him. So it’s not new. It has happened before.

There is an ideology of hate and separation in the country and it starts internally within an individual. But the truth also is, you can’t hate another person without hating yourself. The starting point is hating yourself. Once you hate yourself, only then can you start hating other people. Mr Modi’s problem is that he hates himself.

Q. But your party is saying the opposite. They are saying that he loves himself!

Yes, superficially he loves himself. But if you go beyond the superficial, you’ll find that the massive amount of arrogance he exudes and all that “me, me, me, me, me,” comes from fear, and that fear comes from the fact that he dislikes himself. The source of all negative emotions is fear. I will only hate things I fear. I don’t fear Mr Modi in the least, so I can’t hate him.

Q. He has said your father Rajiv Gandhi used warships for his personal holidays.

That is a lie. The truth is, we are fighting a battle for the present and the future of this country. And Mr Modi has been outmaneuvered, outflanked and cut down, as far as the present and the future are concerned. So where else can he go, but the past? Mr Modi can’t answer how he’s going to give us the 20 million jobs a year he promised, he can’t answer on what he did for farmers, can’t answer why he couldn’t put 15 lakh in everyone’s bank accounts. He can’t answer questions on Rafale. And so, he has only one place to run to and that is the past. But, we’ve closed the door to his future and his present, and we’re soon going to close the door on his past as well.

In fact, while Mr Modi has been stuck in the past, in the Congress Party, we’ve been talking to the people of India; farmers, youngsters, labourers, women, and we’ve been asking them to tell us what they want. How do you imagine India’s future? Let’s not talk about the past, but the future -- what do you want? And they’ve told us, and we’ve put that in our manifesto. Mr Modi is trapped, not by the Congress, but by the voice of the Indian people. And he can’t escape that, no matter how far back into the past he runs.

Q. When he shows pictures of you as a child, on what looks like a warship, are you afraid that the people will be swayed by what he’s saying?

Do I look afraid? Mr Narendra Modi is obsessed with my family. I’m not obsessed with my family. I don’t think about my father, grandmother or great-grandfather as much as Mr Modi does. He thinks that that’s the place where he’s going to find his escape. Best of luck to him!

Q. Would you like to clear the record for the people who have seen the pictures of those holidays.

I’ve been on the Viraat. I’ve been with my father on it when he was the PM. Of course there are pictures. He had gone for an official visit ... and I accompanied him.

Q. So it was an official trip?


Q. So a holiday in Lakshadweep with the INS Viraat..

Holiday on the INS Viraat? That’s crazy. Why would anyone holiday on an aircraft carrier? It’s not a cruise ship!

Q. They said you were using it, and that it was parked there for safety or security, that is the allegation.

You should check with the Navy. Why are you asking me? How can I possibly tell you where an aircraft carrier was anchored 35 years ago and with what purpose? But again, don’t you see — this is how Mr Modi creates a smokescreen to distract from the real issues that this election should be fought on. And journalists like you bite the bait. The truth is, you can either run a country by looking into the future or by being in the present. You can say you have a long-term vision, or you can be in the present and focus on what’s happening and take care of it. Ideally you do a mix of both. Mr Narendra Modi on the other hand, runs India while obsessed with the past. Look at his slogan: Sattar saal mein kuch nahi hua (nothing has happened in 70 years) he’s looking backwards. The driver is driving the bus looking into the rear view mirror. And that’s why you get rubbish like demonetisation and the Gabbar Singh Tax.

We’re going to focus on the real issues facing India today. And on our vision for the future. We will not allow Mr Modi to escape by dragging us back into the past.

The truth is Mr Narendra Modi is scared of the future, he’s always been terrified of it. It’s because he knows he lacks the vision to chart the course for India’s future.

Q. Looking at the future and the journey you’ve made, you’ve talked about how things have changed. We’ve seen a lot of people who are working with you now, people like (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief) MK Stalin say we want Rahul Gandhi as PM, and even someone who is very critical of you, someone like Arvind Kejriwal, he said that today. Does that make you feel good?

I’m very fond of all these leaders, and I respect all these leaders. But the only voice that has a right to decide that is the voice of the people of India. No other voice. It is their decision that I will respect. They will decide who becomes the PM of India.

Q. So if Congress gets the numbers?

The people of India, through their actions in these elections, will decide. Their decision will be clear on May 23rd.

Q. Even Mr Kejriwal?

I’m fond of everybody. My way of thinking is that Mr Narendra Modi represents a voice in this country. I understand that there are certain voices in this country who are angry, and he represents those voices. Mr Kejriwal too represents a voice just as Mr Stalin does or Jayalalithaa ji did. India is the sum total of all these different voices and that is something I absolutely respect.

My challenge is how does one bring these voices together and set up a conversation that helps take this country into the future with as little friction as possible.

Q. Here’s a question, how to bring all these voices together? What if some of those voices, like the Shiv Sena, or RSS supporting forces, if they are needed, would you bring them…

We’re fighting an ideological battle.

Q. So you don’t want to remove Mr Narendra Modi?

Mr Narendra Modi is an individual. But he also represents an ideology. As an individual I love him, like I love every living being. However, I disagree strongly with his ideology and I will do whatever it takes to defeat that ideology.

There are multiple voices, and what India needs, is the stitching together of these voices. However, there is an ideological war going on. On one side you have the Congress and its allies who say, ‘leave the institutions alone, let them be independent’.

For instance, Mr Stalin doesn’t say that the institutions of India should belong to the Tamil people. He says that the institutions of India are sacred, but there should be some Tamil voice in there and other voices too. That’s not how the RSS and Mr Narendra Modi view it. They want to capture India’s institutions. So there is an ideological fight going on. On that, there is no compromise.

So we’re not going to compromise with somebody who wants to destroy the Constitution or who wants to destroy the institutional structure of this country.

We’re not going to compromise with somebody, who views this country as the personal property of an organisation. The country doesn’t belong to the RSS, never has, never will. Ever. The RSS is just one of millions of voices in this country, and they are delusional if they think they are going to capture the voice of this country.

Q. So everybody else, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Biju Janata Dal, they’re all welcome to come with you?

Once again, let us first respect the voice of the Indian people. They’re going to vote, let us respect their voice. Once they’ve made that clear, everything else flows from there. Until then, why disrespect their voice and try and pre-judge what they’re going to say?

Q. One of the points that Modi’s supporters really push is that he is a 24/7 PM, that he doesn’t take a break or a holiday, that he’s always there. Unlike any PM, he is always working. And they compare him to you..

Very simple. How do you define work? Do you define work as coming in front of a camera and waving? I don’t define work like that. An essential part of my work is spending time thinking about, and listening to people’s voices and using those interactions to develop a strategy for the country. I will bet you, whatever you want, that as far as thinking about India is concerned, I’m spending at least 10 times the amount of time that Mr Narendra Modi is spending.

One way to test this is to ask Mr Modi to debate me on corruption, on jobs, on farmers’ issues and international relations.

I’m not the one running away, Mr Modi is the one running away. He’s running away because he doesn’t have a plan. He doesn’t have the answers.

On the other hand I spend a lot of my time thinking about how all the divergent voices are going to be brought together into a cohesive strategy to take this country forward. You sit down with me, you talk to me about Jammu &Kashmir (J&K), I will give you detailed thinking about how the Congress party is going to tackle the J&K issue.

Or about jobs or agriculture or about our economy. How much time has Mr Narendra Modi spent really thinking through these issues or developing a vision for India’s future?

Q. He says that he doesn’t sleep..

Well that’s insane. It’s also a lie. Who said not sleeping is the measure of working?

Q. He said Barack Obama was impressed by his work ethic...

Mr Barack Obama was probably having him on! The Americans do psychological profiles of all leaders and they tell you exactly what you want to hear. And Mr Narendra Modi bought it hook, line and sinker.

When you’re working on issues of national importance, work is talking to people, listening to people and thinking about what they said. How much time has Mr Narendra Modi spent actually sitting and thinking about how he’s going to resolve India’s unemployment crisis?

I know from people who sit in his office that it is zero. Zero. He actually hasn’t sat down because he doesn’t believe in a team. He doesn’t believe that anybody else can have that conversation with him. So he’s a lone ranger, fighting a lonely battle.

Q. He has Amit Shah

Indeed. Best of luck to him.

Q. The media was very tough on you.

No, the media was very fair to me. Look, there is nothing known as unfair, if you are a political person fighting a political battle.

The media was very, very nice to me, but not in the way you think. The media was very nice to me because when they took out their aggression on me, they changed me.

So I have to appreciate that and say thank you to the media. Right now you guys are all (going) “very good, very good” I am looking forward to the day when you begin attacking me again. It’s only a matter of time!

Q. Why are we going “very good?” Because you won the elections last year?

Because there is a life cycle to how you view me. It changes with time. I’m not the sort of person who will sit there and say “the media is so unfair to me.” I actually think the media is being fair to me, Mr Narendra Modi is being fair to me.

Every single person is being fair to me. And every single person is teaching me something. So, hit me as hard as you can with everything you have got, and I will learn from it. So no, I don’t hate the media or anyone else.

Q. The media only says what they see. When they do ground reports, and my colleagues are going everywhere, they’re saying that in places, (yes there is a huge job problem, and a big problem with the economy) but many reporters are coming back and saying that Mr Narendra Modi is popular, that “unke naam pe chunav jeet sakte hain” (the party can win in his name).

Let’s wait till the 23rd[May]. Look till just two years ago, the media said Mr Narendra Modi cannot lose an election. You said to me that Mr Modi is going to win the election in Gujarat, he barely escaped. You said to me he will win in Karnataka, in MP, in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. We defeated him in all these states. Now you’re saying he’s popular and can’t lose in 2019.

Let’s see! This is a myth that has been constructed, the myth of Mr Narendra Modi. The political genius backed by the RSS. Impossible to beat. Amit Shah whose great strategies win elections. This is all a myth. We’re going to destroy it.

In fact we’ve already destroyed it, which is why the PM is constantly attacking (me) with such vitriol. Because he knows that it’s game over for him and he’s getting desperate.

Q. The best politicians have some regrets. Is there anything that you regret in your journey. For instance, tearing up the ordinance? {In 2013, Gandhi tore up an ordinance brought by the Manmohan Singh government with a provision to protect convicted politicians against disqualification}.

I make mistakes all the time. I’ve got a list. Everyone makes mistakes, I’m only human, everyone does.

Q. Tearing up the ordinance?

That was an expression I had. Maybe it was expressed in a way that was too aggressive. But see, I would never learn without regret. I could never love people without having hate thrown on me. I wouldn’t know what it means. So yes, of course every human being has regrets. I’m sure you do too.

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