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At Princeton University, Rahul Gandhi calls for transparency and openness

Rahul Gandhi told students at the American university that India’s legislative and judicial branches of the government should be more accessible.

world Updated: Sep 20, 2017 19:03 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Rahul Gandhi US visit,Rahul Gandhi speech,Rahul Gandhi at Princeton University
On a two-week tour of the United States, Rahul Gandhi has visited both the University of California, Berkeley and Princeton University.(PTI)

Arguing forcefully for greater all-around openness and transparency, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi issued a stinging denouncement of India’s closed law-making process, saying as parliamentarians “we sit in parliament, we have conversations, but we don’t make laws”.

Laws, he told a group of Indian students at Princeton University on Tuesday, were being made in India “by bureaucrats and by ministers…and Parliament, itself, just validates” them.

He was answering a question on what needs to be done to enhance the work and reach of Parliament and the law-making process.

Building on his point, Gandhi said the standard of parliamentary debate was “excellent” in the 1950s, because members of parliament at the time made laws. Current parliamentarians don’t, and this reflects in the quality of debates, which he said, were of “poor quality”.

The larger point Gandhi made was that law-making was a closed process in India, and opening it up would lead to its improvement, greater participation by parliamentarians and the involvement of experts. Openness and transparency, he said, had always served India well.

“What I would like to try and push forward is a transformation of the Lok Sabha, transformation of the Vidhan Sabha,” he said. “I would like to see an India where members of parliament, members of legislative assemblies are actually involved in some of these processes.”

And Gandhi would also like to open up some of these law-making processes not only to MPs and MLAs, but to students so that they could come and help in the activity, something along the lines of how it works in the United States.

Gandhi addressed an entire range of issues, from how India had done since it began the liberalisation process in the early 1990s, to key challenges for the country — creating jobs.

The “central reason” why Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power was the need felt for more jobs.

“I think the central reason why Mr Modi arose and to an extent why Mr Trump came, is the question of jobs in India and in the United States. There’s a large part of our populations that simply do not have jobs and cannot see a future. And, so they are feeling (the) pain. And they have supported this type of leaders.”

Modi, he added, was not doing enough on that front and is the focus of the same anger that ousted the Congress.

Gandhi did acknowledge, in response to a question, that he agreed with some initiatives of the Modi government – the Make in India programme for one.

But he said he would pay more attention to small and medium enterprises. He pointed to the Goods and Sales Tax in this context and said it was a good move, and one that his party supported. But, he added, he would have implemented it differently.

Gandhi returned to the theme of openness and transparency several times, tying it to his other pet issue, that of decentralisation, the lack of which was all pervasive, permeating the judiciary, where centralisation, he said in response to a question was at the root of judicial delay.

“Complete centralisation. Pretty much every case ends up in the Supreme Court,” Gandhi said. “So, decentralise, make the district courts actually work, make the state courts actually work and solve the problem at the periphery instead of bringing every single problem to the centre.”

He added, “The Supreme Court is supposed to give you direction, it is supposed to work on fundamental cases. So that’s the problem everywhere in India.”

Gandhi, who is winding down a two-week tour of the US with an outreach to Indian-Americans in New York’s Times Square on Wednesday, went on to suggest, drawing from his own attempts to democratise some wings of his party, that people don’t like transparency “because it disturbs people…it’s disruptive”.

First Published: Sep 20, 2017 10:51 IST