‘Would like to see more of him,’ say NRIs after Rahul concludes speech at Times Square | Hindustan Times
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‘Would like to see more of him,’ say NRIs after Rahul concludes speech at Times Square

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s US visit, which started with a speech at the University of California, Berkeley, was the first by a major Congress leader in years and one that was intended as much to introduce him to an audience that had been sceptical of him.

india Updated: Sep 21, 2017 23:21 IST
Yashwant Raj
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi delivers a speech at the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley, California on September 12.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi delivers a speech at the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley, California on September 12. (PTI)

As he wound down his speech to Indian-Americans at a marquee hotel in the middle of bustling Times Square in New York on Wednesday night, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said he would be back soon and the next time, there would be enough time for photographs and “selfies” with supporters.

“We would like to see more of him,” said Rajni Patel, a New Jersey businessman leaving the venue, when asked what he thought of the Congress leader .

“And he said he will be back soon — but what he said today, needed to be said and heard.”

This is not exactly Narendra Modi country, but his influence spanned coast to coast, flagged by two public events a year apart that had left even Americans gasping. And for a long time, there had not been a competing narrative from the Congress.

Gandhi’s visit, which started with a speech at the University of California, Berkeley, was the first by a major Congress leader in years and one that was intended as much to introduce him to an audience that had been sceptical of him, thrown off, many of them acknowledged, by the image that they had encountered in the media, especially on social media.

Sam Pitroda, who heads the party’s overseas wing, complained about it on Wednesday, telling fellow Indian-Americans that “others are defining” Gandhi and he doesn’t like it.

Were they able to make a dent?

“Rahul Gandhi’s public and private appearances in the US certainly beat expectations, although the bar was set low,” said Carnegie’s Milan Vaishnav, a close observer of politics in India who has published several books and papers. “The unresolved question remains: what will the Congress stand for in 2019 other than ‘not the BJP’.

“Rahul delivered a stinging critique of Modi’s leadership and the BJP’s Hindutva ideology, but he did not offer a coherent alternative vision, especially on the economic front.”

Gandhi did speak about the need to create jobs as a central challenge facing India — to close the gap between the demand, 30,000 youngsters joining the job market every day, and supply, of around 450 on offer currently.

But Vaishnav said he needed to spell out “the Congress strategy for providing them with good jobs”. And in the light of a slump in domestic investment, “what would the Congress do to turn the ship around?”

A member of Gandhi’s team said one visit would not be enough to address all issues about the Congress leader, and there will be more, but the exposure will “both help him line up his thoughts better, and, most importantly, give him a major confidence boost”.

A former White House official who attended one of Gandhi’s engagements said he was impressed by the Congress leader’s grasp on policy issues, something he didn’t find in many others in the party.

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