Rahul Gandhi says ‘absolutely ready’ to take over as Congress president

BJP called Rahul Gandhi a “failed dynast” who spoke in the United States because nobody in India was listening to him

india Updated: Sep 13, 2017 00:33 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Rahul Gandhi,GST,Rahul Gandhi Berkeley
Congress vice president, Rahul Gandhi at the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley, California, on Monday. (PTI)

Rahul Gandhi said on Tuesday he was ready to take over as president of the Congress but it was up to the party to elect him to the post.

The Congress vice president made the comments at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also took a broad swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic policies, including the scrapping of high-value banknotes and the “hasty” rollout of a goods and services tax (GST).

He accused the government of pursuing divisive politics and doing little to stop vigilante violence and attacks on activists and journalists. Without naming him, Gandhi accused Modi of controlling “a BJP machine” of 1,000 people to abuse him online.

Gandhi’s comments triggered protests from the BJP, which called him a “failed dynast” who spoke in the United States because nobody in India was listening to him.

Asked if he was ready to take on “an executive role” in the party, Gandhi – whose elevation as Congress president is long awaited – said he was “absolutely ready to do that”.

“But the way our party works, we have an organisational election process that decides that, and that process is currently ongoing.”

DYNASTS RUN INDIA

Gandhi also sought to deflect criticism that the Congress was a dynastic party, saying he shouldn’t be singled out because “that’s how India runs”, be it in politics, business or the film industry.

“Most parties in India have that problem… Akhilesh Yadav is a dynast; Mr Stalin is a dynast; Mr Dhumal’s son (Anurag Thakur) is a dynast; even Mr Abhishek Bachchan is a dynast,” he said. “So, don’t get after me.”

Gandhi, 47, kicked off a two-week tour of the United States with Tuesday’s speaking assignment at the UCB. He also took questions after a speech on ‘India at 70: Reflections on the Path Forward’.

Introspecting on the Congress’ decline, Gandhi said after years in power his party became arrogant, and around 2012 it stopped a long tradition of internal dialogue to devise political strategy.

“A certain arrogance crept into the Congress party and they stopped having that conversation,” he said.

Gandhi reserved his strongest words for Prime Minister Modi and his policies. He said demonetisation and the “hurried implementation” of GST had tremendously damaged the economy, which was now struggling to recover from sluggish growth.

The Congress leader also criticised the government’s policies in troubled Kashmir, saying these had opened the space for terrorism. He also spoke about a spate of lynching across the country, especially of Muslims suspected of carrying or eating beef, and blamed the BJP’s politics of polarisation for it.

“Liberal journalists [are] being shot. People [are] being lynched because they are Dalits, Muslims killed on suspicion of carrying beef – This is new in India and damages India very badly,” he said.

But Gandhi conceded Modi was a better communicator than him.

“He has certain skills. He’s a very good communicator and understands how to deliver a message to three or four groups in a crowd…,” he said.

“But what I sense is that he doesn’t converse with people he works with. Even many BJP MPs told me that he doesn’t listen to anyone.”

First Published: Sep 12, 2017 22:52 IST