By: Chandrashekar Bhat
RAHUL GANDHI, the former president of India’s opposition Congress, said he is not afraid of criticism and asserted the fight in his country is between “courage and cowardice”.
During his interaction with the Indian diaspora, organised by the Indian Overseas Congress in London on Sunday (6), he said of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP): “The more they attack me, the better that is for me.”
“It’s a fight between courage and cowardice. It’s a fight between respect and disrespect, between love and hatred… In a market of hatred, we want to set up a shop that spreads love,” he said amid applause.
The 52-year-old Congress MP said he had been invited to deliver a lecture at the University of Cambridge and regretted in an oblique reference to prime minister Narendra Modi that an Indian political leader is unable to similarly freely address a university in India.
“It was a nice atmosphere (at Cambridge University) and it made me think that an Indian political leader can give a talk at Cambridge University, (and) Harvard University but he can’t give a talk in an Indian university,” said Gandhi.
“The reason is that our government simply does not allow any idea of the opposition, any concept of the opposition to be discussed. The same happens in Parliament House when there are important things we need to speak about, like demonetisation, GST, (and) the fact that the Chinese are sitting inside our territory, we are not allowed to raise them in the House,” he said, amid chants of “shame, shame” from the estimated 2,000-strong crowd.
“It’s shameful but it’s true and this is not the India that all of us are used to. Our country is an open country, a country where we pride ourselves on our intelligence, respect each other’s opinions, listen to each other and that atmosphere has been destroyed,” he said.
Gandhi reiterated he was forced to undertake his Bharat Jodo Yatra (unite-India tour) – walking about 4,000 km from Kanyakumari in south India to Kashmir in the north, because all the institutions that protect democracy and allow an expression of voice have been “captured” by the BJP.
“What our different cultures tell us (is) we are one country with many, many different ideas. And we have the capability of living together harmoniously without hatred without anger without disrespect. And it’s when we do that, we are successful. And that was the message of the Yatra,” he said.
Attacking the BJP, the former Congress president said, “On the other side, we have an ideology of hatred and violence, a disrespectful ideology that attacks people because of their ideas. And you must have noticed one thing that this is in the nature of the BJP and the RSS.”
The RSS or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is a voluntary organisation and the ideological fountainhead of the BJP.
“If you notice the statement of the foreign minister, he said China is much more powerful than us. To think China is more powerful than us, how can I pick a fight with them? At the heart of the ideology is cowardice,” he said, referring to Indian external affairs minister S Jaishankar’s reported remarks during an interview.
The BJP has accused Gandhi of maligning India on foreign soil while praising China.
Gandhi’s remarks at Cambridge University that Indian democracy is under attack and several politicians, including himself, are under surveillance, has triggered a political slugfest with the BJP accusing him of denigrating the country.
At Sunday’s event, the Indian Overseas Congress UK chapter introduced Gandhi as the next prime minister of India and called upon the diaspora supporters to back the party’s vision unleashed by the Bharat Jodo Yatra.