New Delhi: India’s Congress party president Rahul Gandhi is arriving in the UAE on his maiden visit on January 11 when he will address Indian expatriates at Dubai International Cricket Stadium as part of a global outreach programme.
Ahead of the two-day visit, Gulf News travelled to New Delhi for an interview at his high-security residence in the capital’s Tughlaq Road on Monday. During the exclusive face-to-face interview lasting over 50 minutes over a glass of warm water, a combative Gandhi spoke candidly about his party’s election plans, India’s economic challenges, political alliances and on Muslims, a community that has faced violent attacks. He also spoke about the absence of direct communication between him, the leader of India’s largest opposition party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the last five years. Gandhi said if his party comes to power, a new government will investigate Rafale deal.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
What is pretty clear now is that there is a connection between harmony and the economy. You cannot divorce mood from the economy, for example. Ad hoc, non-strategic knee-jerk manoeuvres do tremendous damage to the economy. The GST that has been put in place is actually not a GST, because the GST is one tax and this is multiple taxes and created an orgy of rent seeking, it has allowed massive amount of rent seeking particularly at small and medium businesses. It has broken their back. Second, the entire informal economy was obliterated by demonetisation, over 15 million people lost their jobs — a medium size country — and that’s the direct result of GST, demonetisation and inept economic management.
A couple of things need to be done, number one, growth is good and the fastest growth ever delivered in India’s history was under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). So, we understand the importance of growth… but growth without jobs doesn’t work. India has a job crisis, largely created by Mr Modi personally. Focusing on SMEs and creating the atmosphere where these SMEs become big businesses, that’s one element. Second is unlocking agriculture [which] has been turned into a silo, Mr Modi sees agriculture as the biggest liability. We see our farmers as an asset [and] as long as they are supported, they are protected, they are linked to the global economy. It means food processing units, cold chains, infrastructure that links the farms to the economy. India cannot compete with China which has large factories but we can do manufacturing in SMEs.
Alliances for 2019
Our first aim is to defeat [Prime Minister] Mr Narendra Modi. There are states where we are very strong and we are the primary party and are contesting the BJP directly. There are states where there are possible alliances — Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Bihar… where we are working out an alliance formula. There are very interesting things that the Congress party can do in Uttar Pradesh... the Congress idea is very powerful for Uttar Pradesh. So, we are very confident of our ability in Uttar Pradesh and we will surprise people. We are trying to bring opposition together… UP is work in progress. I have heard some statements in the media but we are going to work together and make sure that we defeat Mr Modi. But, I just want to say again — to underestimate the Congress in UP is a mistake.
Cultural nationalism is a very soft term for what the BJP does. Killing Dalits, killing minorities, brutalising and killing tribals, thrashing women… this word is too soft. The BJP uses bigotry, hatred, violence and anger… that’s not cultural nationalism. The way we did [countered BJP] it in MP, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and we gave the BJP a bloody nose in Gujarat, we will counter it by telling people that Mr Modi is corrupt, he has stolen money from people, he protects industrialists like Mr Anil Ambani, that he has destroyed the economy of this country. I am very confident that we will put that message across and defeat Mr Modi in 2019.
Congress of 2014 Vs Congress of 2019
We came to power in 2004 with a particular set of ideas which were further improvement on the Nineties and they served the country very well between 2004 and 2010. Those set of ideas ran out of steam towards the end of our second term and we tried to peddle those same ideas in 2014 and we failed. You can understand that we were ten years in power and frankly there was a certain amount of fatigue, a little bit of arrogance built up and that harmed us.
We were clearly told by the Indian people that in 2014 we are not happy with what you have offered us. We have taken that message home very deeply. The Congress party of today… if you go to MP, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka, we are listening to people and building our ideas. We are not deciding, we are asking people what they want. We are going to listen very carefully, our model is completely different than the BJP. Our model is to bring people into conversation and listen to what they are saying.
There are a couple of things that the government has done. Number one, it has decimated the economy and the root [cause of ] this decimation is the destruction of our institutions. They have destroyed the institutional structure which has given everything we have… our economy grew on sound economic principles, that has been wiped out. The government [that] comes [in 2019] is certainly going to create those independent structures and giving them space that the deserve. We view ourselves [as those] who use experts to do things.
That’s that’s not Mr Modi’s vision, he doesn’t have respect for experts and he believes that he is the centre of all knowledge. The common perception is that demonetisation is some sort of economic exercise. It wasn’t, it was a scam and indicators that it was a scam are slowly coming out. Respect, knowledge and understanding. An institution is a reservoir of knowledge, respect the people in that institution. The Supreme Court, the Reserve Bank of India, Election Commission of India have knowledge that no one has. Listen to them, respect and allow them space. Those are India’s assets, not liabilities.
Insecurity among minorities
The current fight that is taking place is for two visions of India. The BJP is saying that a small group of people with a bigoted ideology should run the entire country and they should decide the future of this country. We say that every single person, regardless of their religion should have a voice. What Mr Narendra Modi is doing is crushing the voice of people and that is what we are fighting. I have no doubt that Mr Modi is not going to be the prime minister in 2019. It is the Congress vision of India which is the plural vision, vision of carrying everybody together. We don’t want an India where people feel insecure, where people feel threatened, where people do not feel part of the process that is India.
We will punish those who think that they can get away by crushing India. They should not be under the impression that they can crush the weak people. I am very clear on 1984 that anybody, regardless of where he comes from, if he has harmed members of the minority community, he should be punished. The legal system will make sure that the justice is done [in 1984 cases] and we will allow the justice system to work. The legal structure that we have, the laws that we have, are good enough to deal with the problems as long as institutions like the Supreme Court are free to do their work.
I am very confident that the work that has been done by India and the UAE will continue. I myself have great respect for the relationship between the Middle East and India. This relationship goes back many hundreds of years and it’s not new. That’s a very powerful set of relationships and they need to be nurtured and pushed. So, I have no doubt that it is very important that we maintain the ties with the UAE.
The ‘Pappu’ label
The best gift that I have received was 2014. I have learnt from it like I couldn’t have learnt from anything else. The more difficult my opponents make my life, the harder it is for me, the better it is for me. I don’t get disturbed by this [Pappu]. I appreciate the attacks from my opponents and I learn from them.
Lessons from Modi
I learn from my grandmother, I learn from my father and I learn from Modi Ji. I am an open system, I listen. There are people who have taught me a lot but in general I learn a lot from my opponents and friends. When your opponent says something, the natural reaction is anger and then when you have anger, you don’t listen to what they are saying. So, what I do is remove the anger. Then I listen and I say ok, that’s interesting, there is some truth to what he is saying. Mr Narendra Modi has a lot of anger and a lot of what he says about me comes from that anger. But there are certain things that he says which I listen to.
For example, the frame he uses against my family… there is an element of that frame which is hatred and anger. And there is another element that says ‘look, you come from a position where you have had certain advantages’ and it’s true! I have to take into account that truth, I can’t deny the fact that my family was in politics. But what Mr Narendra Modi doesn’t see is the pain that has come, the violence that has come, the lessons I have learnt. You are handed cards and in every card has two sides. Mr Modi has certain disadvantages and advantages. [Modi] doesn’t talk to me. He meets and says in monosyllables… he will say ‘hello’. The biggest gift that Mr Modi has given me is that I listen now, I listen very deeply.
Right now my single-minded focus is that we are fighting an ideological war, we have to make sure that Mr Modi and the RSS do not continue to have their hold on Indian institutions. I like to operate in the present… and right now the present is that there is a political fight taking place. We are working with our allies, making sure that they present a solid narrative and we are putting in place the pieces that are going to defeat Mr Modi.