Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi in conversation with Prof. Kaushik Basu of Cornell University. Excerpts, via INC India:
The threat to democracy in India is much deeper than muzzling debate. Muzzling debate is a symptom of it. Modern democracies function because there are independent institutions and that independence is being attacked in India.
There is now one big mother institution called the RSS that is penetrating all Indian institutions. There is not a single one that is not under attack. And that is systematically done.
The judiciary, the press, the bureaucracy, EC – every single institution – is being systematically filled by people who have a particular ideology and who belong to a certain institution.
As a politician, I can only do my job if I have institutional support; if I get support from judiciary, EC – a whole number of institutions – that can protect the conversation & debate.
I did not realise how profound not having this institutional support is until I was actually faced with it. For example, during debates in Parliament, the mic is shut off. That’s the extent of it.
We are not allowed to speak in Parliament, don’t have recourse with courts, RSS-BJP combine has massive financial advantage, businesses are told not to support the Opposition. It is a full-scale assault on the democratic space.
I used to wonder how does a Mubarak win an election with 97% votes. What was happening: there was only one institution & all other institutions were pretend institutions captured by it. That is what we are facing today in India.
I have been advocating for internal democracy in the Congress for a decade now. I pushed for elections in youth & student organisations. I’m the first person who says democratic elections within the party is absolutely critical.
Nobody asks the question why there is no internal democracy in the BJP, BSP or the Samajwadi party. There is a reason they ask this to Congress – we are a ideological party whose ideology is that of the Constitution, of equality.
For us at Congress, as the institution that fought for Independence, that gave India the Constitution, it is critical that we are democratic and we have democratic processes.
The RSS is filling institutions with their people. So even if we defeat them in the elections, we are not going to get rid of their people in the institutional structure.
The nightmare for India is becoming the battlefield for the collision between superpowers. This is something good politics & foreign policy in India has to maneuver around.
The United States requires a global vision and India has role to play in creating a vision, a strategy. It can be a co-existing strategy. But the strategy has to be there and currently it is not.
A nation has a memory & an imagination. Either look forward and create an imagination or look backwards and talk about memories. The whole debate in India is look what happened 300-700 years ago. There is no imagination.
You cannot build a vision on memory, you have to build a vision on imagination.
Entire politics of India has become one of memory. It has to end because it is not going to give any solutions.
Let’s talk about what we should do now. That’s the political & economic conversation I want to have but that’s not what the BJP likes to do because they cannot have that conversation.
I understand from where a lot of the anger in India is coming from. We are not creating jobs. I can understand the people are not able to see a future.
There is a massive concentration of capital & wealth in India that the nation is going to run into social problems. This is going to lead to other type of costs in the future.
There is a systematic attack on small & medium businesses by the people who have managed to concentrate the wealth. Demonetisation, GST designed to destroy these businesses.
In the Prime Minister’s vision of India, 4-5 big players concentrate capital and build the economy. But in India you just cannot do that.
After destroying the small & medium jobs-creation engine of India, now they are hitting agriculture with these devastating laws which are going to destroy the agricultural system.
What India needs is to fire the economy from consumption-side, demand-side. And the govt insists on firing supply-side, and this too by not even firing the thousands & thousands of MSMEs but by giving it to the same 10 people.
I met the workforce [walking back home during Covid19], they were crying because their entire asset base was destroyed. The govt was putting each one of them below the poverty-line & starting negative cash flow cycles for them.
The govt wouldn’t give money for their [migrant workforce] bus tickets but at the same time gave Rs.1,50,000 crore to the top 5-10 people.
It is the poor people of India who are the nation’s assets. They are the ones we should be investing in because they are the ones who are giving the returns.
The PM does not understand that the agriculture in its current form is providing protection & shock absorber to millions & millions of people. He is now going to take that away & people are not going to have anywhere to go.
When Covid19 came, why did millions of labourers run home? Because village was their protection, it allowed them to eat. Now, the PM is going to take that away from them.
India needs to heal. It needs to start a conversation- a gentle & compassionate conversation within itself. It needs to be a respectful conversation. It needs to urgently stop this hateful conversation.
India needs to accept that what worked between 1990-2012 is not working now & what the govt is currently trying to do is an extension of that concept. We have to accept that we have to bite the manufacturing bullet.
A country of 1.3 billion people cannot be run on the service industry, We need a manufacturing strategy.
Be compassionate, be nice to each other, because that is the starting point.
In a country like India there is a political issue with discussing environment and that this the first thing to understand.
India’s challenge is job creation. And job creation is going to require 2-3 things: – unlocking of the banking system – give MSMEs access to the banking system – transform agriculture
I would make sure there is a social protection to people who fall off the poverty-line. A person who has fallen below the poverty line is not just hurting himself but he is not adding to the output of the nation too.
The nation should give a floor underneath the poor people. MGNREGA is a 21st century example of it. NYAY is another example.
The whole education system is being targeted. Re-writing of history, subtle re-writing of social norms, subtle attack on the ideas of the Constitution, subtle attack on the ideas of equality.
What is happening is an attack on the idea of equality. The RSS began this attack from their schools. Much like the radical Islamists use their madrassas in Pakistan, RSS uses their schools to push their worldview.
What Narendra Modi & RSS are trying to do is once again reinforce the idea of Caste on India- that’s what the project is; that everybody should know their space- a Dalit, a woman, a Muslim, a Sikh should know his/her space.
Gather the resistance. The Congress party should have the humility, the flexibility & the respect to absorb them. The Congress party has to change itself & transform itself to play that role.
We will bring together India’s power. The Congress party has to submit & open itself to the Indian people. And it has to be humble because it is fighting arrogance. This is how we should transform & it is in our DNA to do it.
The Opposition, after 2014, is no longer fighting for power, we are fighting for India.
This is the best opportunity that India could have ever got- to learn, to understand its weaknesses & to emerge stronger. It has to go through the fire to transform itself.
We will be wiser, we will be nicer, we will be more compassionate. We will play an important role in the world.
Making sure USA & China don’t go to war is something India should take as its responsibility. India has to play that global role. We are the bridge between both these culture & we have to become a bridging & embracing civilisation