Rahul Gandhi, a leading figure in India’s opposition and a member of the Congress Party, openly criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dominance over Indian society during a speech at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday (01).
Gandhi remains optimistic about the opposition’s prospects in the forthcoming 2024 elections despite encountering legal obstacles, including his expulsion from the Indian parliament, following a defamation conviction in March 2023, due to remarks made during the 2019 election campaign.
“I think the Congress Party will do very well in the next election. I think it will surprise people,” he said, before referring to Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “Just do the math, a united opposition will defeat the BJP on its own.”
Gandhi accused the BJP leader of polarising and dividing Indian society, and of orchestrating a “capture of the institutions” in his country.
Modi and his party, BJP advocate for Hindu hegemony in India, a nation with a population of 1.4 billion, encompassing diverse faiths and governed by a secular constitution.
However, according to Gandhi, the ruling party has fostered “a clampdown on the institutional framework that allowed India to talk, that allowed Indian people to negotiate.”
Gandhi’s visit to the US comes just a few weeks before Modi’s upcoming state visit on June 22, which is expected to be marked by a grand reception at the White House.
Gandhi’s political involvement has been curtailed due to his conviction for defamation and subsequent loss on appeal in April, rendering him legally ineligible to further engage in politics.
But Gandhi asserted that his “disqualification” was in fact “an advantage.”
“It allows me to completely redefine myself. I think they have given me a gift, frankly. They don’t realise it, but they have,” he added, lamenting that “thousands and thousands of voices… are being frightened into submission.”
Gandhi was convicted of defamation after declaring that “all thieves have Modi as their surname.”
He was given a two-year jail by a tribunal but is currently free on bail.
Gandhi is the scion of a political dynasty, the son of Rajiv (and Sonia) Gandhi, grandson of Indira Gandhi and great-grandson of independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru, all former prime ministers.
His Congress Party is a political movement that once dominated Indian politics but whose weight has now been considerably reduced, while Modi’s nationalist party has won over the country’s Hindu majority.