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Rahul Gandhi to NRIs: Save India’s reputation, stand up against divisive forces

Rahul Gandhi at Times Square in New York: Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Abdul Kalam Azad, Sardar Patel and B R Ambedkar were all NRIs who brought to India their learnings when they returned, and transformed the country.

india Updated: Sep 21, 2017 14:15 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, New York
Rahul Gandhi,Rahul Gandhi news,Rahul Gandhi speech
Rahul Gandhi addresses a gathering of NRIs at Times Square in New York City on Wednesday. (PTI)

India’s reputation as a country of peace and harmony is in danger abroad because of divisive forces at work at home, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi said in a veiled attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, and urged NRIs to stand up against “those dividing the country”.

Gandhi’s call came in an outreach programme at the iconic Times Square in New York on Wednesday at the end of his two-week long tour of the United States.

Everywhere he went, Gandhi said, he heard the same concern, from San Francisco, where he began his tour, to Los Angeles to Washington DC to New York. “What has happened to tolerance that had prevailed in India? What is going on in your country,” he said people would ask him.

“The divisive politics was ruining India’s reputation abroad and NRIs in the tradition of the great NRIs before them, should stand up to those dividing India now,” the Congress leader told a gathering of around 2,000 at the Times Square.

“India has a reputation for peace and harmony…this is being challenged…there are forces that are dividing the country...This is dangerous for the country and ruins our reputation abroad,” he added.

While Gandhi restated his vision for the country based on the principal themes of jobs, agriculture, education and healthcare, he appealed to the community to come to India and work for the country and the congress party, telling them non-resident Indians had always played a critical role in India’s progress.

Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Abdul Kalam Azad, Sardar Patel and B R Ambedkar were all non-resident Indians, he said, who brought to India their learnings when hey returned and transformed the country.

“You need to get involved, you have tremendous knowledge, tremendous understanding.”

Gandhi had spoken against rising intolerance in India on this trip, and forcefully, but he returned to it a few times in his remarks to this audience, many of whom had similar concerns and had wanted to hear him talk about it, and show how the Congress party planned to confront it.

“How can you be killed for what you eat,” said Kenneth Noel, a marketing executive who came here from Hyderabad more than 20 years ago, and has been a lifelong supporter of the Congress.

He recounted leaving college early once to hear Gandhi’s grandmother, Indira Gandhi, speak at a rally.

“I was really up there in the front with my friend...really close to where she was speaking,” he added, minutes before Gandhi took the stage, also just a few feet away, in the first few rows.

“Rahul must do this more often...come to speak to non-resident Indians; that’s what the other guys (a reference to the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi) do, and they do it all over the world, wherever Modi goes.”

Comparisons were inevitable, and with another such outreach held on a much grander scale, at a bigger venue just a mile down the road at the Madison Square Garden in 2014, where Indian Americans gave Modi a rock-star reception that had left even Americans impressed.

“I saw a lot of young people at that event,” said Subbu Osuru, an IT professional who said he is an independent and wanted to see and hear Gandhi, as he had Modi in 2014. He thought Gandhi, being the younger of the two leaders, might need to attract more younger supporters than the “elderly” Modi.

Gandhi also praised Sam Pitroda, who was an adviser to his father Rajiv Gandhi and to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as another NRI who through his work on telecommunications helped transform India.

Pitroda, who has taken over the NRI mission of the Congress as the chairman of its Overseas Department, organised Rahul Gandhi’s US visit.

“He (Rahul Gandhi) is not what the media makes him out to be...Others should not define him,” Pitroda said, adding “People see it for themselves.”

Pitroda said that the party’s immediate goal was to increase its 18 overseas units to 30 and set up chapters in every major US city.

The BJP has grown itself in the diaspora through social media.

“Use social media responsibly,” Pitroda exhorted the audience, telling them to stay away from fake news and divisive messages.

The meeting was held under tight security with attendees given wristbands and screened with metal detectors.

(With agency inputs)

First Published: Sep 21, 2017 07:56 IST