Former president of the Indian National Congress Rahul Gandhi, emphasized the need to confront the present challenges facing India with courage and effectiveness. Comparing the BJP régime and drawing an analogy to a turbulent ocean, Gandhi said that storms will arise, and it will pass but it is crucial how the nation reacts to them. "When the storm passes let us make sure we have a new and forward looking India in place."
Gandhi delivered a resolute discourse on numerous challenges confronting India, encompassing assaults on the constitution, unemployment, caste-based discrimination, secularism, inclusivity, the alarming rise in sexual assault against women, and the intertwining of religion in politics.
Furthermore, he shared insights on the strategic defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) through the alignment of opposition parties.
This enlightening interaction took place at the Centre for South Asian Studies in UC Santa Cruz, with Anjali Arondekar, a distinguished professor of feminist studies and co-founding co-director of the center, serving as the moderator. The talk was titled " Rahul Gandhi: Towards Justice and Democratic Futures".
Highlighting the political landscape, Gandhi asserted his belief that the BJP is defeatable. As a political actor, he claimed to discern vulnerabilities within the ruling party. He pointed out that these vulnerabilities may not be apparent to the general public due to media pressure and financial influence.
Gandhi argued that the BJP can be defeated in elections if the opposition aligns itself properly. He attributed the central weakness of the BJP to the pain and inequality they allegedly inflict upon various segments of society.
Specifically, he mentioned tribal communities, Dalits, the poor, farmers, minorities, and small and medium-sized businesses as groups adversely affected by the ruling party's policies.
According to Gandhi, the cumulative suffering caused by the BJP's actions is likely to result in a significant reaction from the people. He emphasized the need for the opposition to capitalize on these sentiments and effectively address the concerns of the affected groups. He called for opposition alignment and emphasized the importance of addressing the pain and inequality experienced by marginalized sections of society.
When questioned about his stance on same-sex marriage and the apparent silence on the issue, Rahul Gandhi responded by asserting that whom a person loves or how they love is their own personal matter and decision. He emphasized that it is not his place or the government's business to interfere or pass judgment on matters of love and personal relationships. "It becomes my business only when it spread hatred. So far anyone's decision does not spread hatred it is no the business of any person to intervene in ones personal choice on love. If it spread hatred there I can say and give an opinion but As long as you are affectionate it's your view." Gandhi also said that since the matter is in Supreme court we have to be careful what we say.
Rahul Gandhi acknowledges that there is a direct attack on the constitution, which is evident to everyone. However, he also highlights the indirect attack on the constitution, which involves undermining the institutional framework that is meant to protect it.
"There is an indirect attack on the constitution which is the attack on the institutional framework. If the institutions that protect the constitution are all captured then Constitution is a mere piece of paper. Both are taking place in India but the good news is that there is a huge counter reaction to it and people are very sensitive and they understand it."
Gandhi remained optimistic, stating that there is a significant counter reaction to these attacks, and people are becoming more aware and sensitive to the situation.
He acknowledged that there is a media capture that limits the voices that are being heard, but he emphasizes that there are voices of resistance and dissent that exist despite this suppression.
Citing the recent example of Karnataka elections, where the Congress was able to defeat the ruling party (BJP) despite a significant disparity in campaign spending, he said that the politics of power and truth will ultimately triumph over the politics of force and money.
"India cannot afford the constitution to be destroyed. India's entire negotiation is based on the Constitution. So an attack on the constitution is attack on the idea of India and if you destroy the constitution you destroy india" he asserted.
Among the topics addressed, one was on the government's continued reliance on outdated caste census data from 1931, which hampers the equitable allocation of funds for welfare schemes.
Responding to the question, Rahul Gandhi said the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government had already conducted a caste census in 2011, but the data could not be released at that time. He said the current government possesses the data from the caste census but is reluctant to release it.
Gandhi agreed that the government's hesitance to release the caste census data is perhaps because it is not politically profitable .
He affirmed that the Congress party is committed to releasing the caste census data and is putting pressure on the BJP to do the same. While there have been discussions about conducting a new caste census in the future, Gandhi emphasized the importance of releasing the 2011 caste census data promptly.
When questioned about the fishermen community in Gujarat having petitioned for mass euthanasia , muslim vendors cases in Delhi and UP of economic boycott, Rahul Gandhi acknowledged that people from various communities, including muslims, tribals, and dalits, face economic and social challenges.
He pointed out that the Congress party's previous manifesto included the concept of a floor- a minimum income guarantee based on Nyay, which aimed to provide an economic floor for every Indian. This idea, according to Gandhi, is a powerful one where below that floor no one would fall.
In Karnataka, he mentioned that they have renamed and repositioned the concept slightly to address the specific needs of the people in the state.
Gandhi also mentioned the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) as an existing initiative aimed at providing a safety net for the vulnerable population. He implies that such programs and ideas are crucial in ensuring that people do not fall below a certain economic threshold.
In response to a question about unemployment, Rahul Gandhi expressed his concern that it has become a crisis that is rapidly escalating and becoming uncontrollable. He attributed a significant portion of the unemployment issue to the concentration of wealth and power by the BJP regime, which he believes is negatively impacting small and medium-sized businesses—the backbone of the economy.
Gandhi highlighted a central problem in India, stating that there is a lack of respect for skill. He emphasized the need to change this attitude and recognize the value of skills in driving employment opportunities. Throughout his Bharat Jodo Yatra, he encountered numerous skill clusters across the country, such as the jeans manufacturing industry in Bellari. Gandhi said that 4 lakh workers in Ballari which is known as the Jeans Capital of India, have become unemployed in last 3-4 years. Only 40 thousand people are now employed there.
He said that despite the presence of skills, there is a disconnect between the skill clusters and the flow of capital. This disconnect has resulted in a loss of employment opportunities for skilled individuals.
Gandhi cited examples of various districts like Moradabad and Kanpur, where distinct skills exist but have been neglected in terms of capital allocation. He pointed out that the current capital structure has failed to tap into the potential of these skill clusters, leading to missed opportunities for employment generation.
He pointed out on the pressing issue of unemployment and criticized the concentration of wealth and power under the BJP regime. He emphasized the importance of respecting and leveraging skills to address the unemployment crisis and called for a closer alignment between capital and skill clusters to create employment opportunities across the country.
Rahul Gandhi said he believes that increased public expenditure on healthcare and education is necessary. However, he also highlights the need to rethink the way education is delivered in India. He suggests that the current approach to teaching lacks effectiveness, as it focuses on ' Ratto' that is memorization rather than encouraging critical thinking and questioning.
Gandhi expressed concern that the traditional education system stifles creativity and does not align with the demands of the modern economy. " These unfortunately are cultural things . These are deeply bedded in our culture they hint questions of caste and community. You have to challenge these ideas more aggressively and more centrally" Gandhi pressed.
When asked about the contrasting approaches of "Politics of Love" and "Politics of Hatred and Division," as well as extending an invitation to the people of Kashmir who have faced significant challenges since August 2019, Rahul Gandhi highlighted his past efforts and expressed his beliefs.
Gandhi referred to the work carried out during the UPA government, where initiatives such as panchayati raj elections and job opportunities for Kashmiri youth in states like Maharashtra were implemented.
He expressed surprise at the mutual affection experienced during those times. However, he noted that the political landscape changed after the 2014 elections.
According to Gandhi, he believes that every individual in India, irrespective of their background or societal affiliation, should have a voice that is respected and valued. This belief extends not only to Kashmir but also to other regions, such as Manipur, which he described as facing a significant tragedy. He emphasized the importance of allowing diverse opinions to be heard and continuing discussions, even in the presence of differing viewpoints. Disagreements should not hinder the pursuit of a shared imagination.
Rahul Gandhi emphasizes the importance of creating opportunities for women in both the political and business spheres. He said that women should have equal access and representation in these areas. Additionally, he stresses the significance of not accepting or tolerating violence against women.
Referring to the wrestlers protest at Jantar Mantar, Gandhi expressed his concern and frustration regarding the lack of action taken against perpetrators of violence against women. He states that it is difficult for him to comprehend why sufficient action is not being taken in such cases, as it does not make sense to him.
Gandhi highlighted that violence against women is a widespread issue across India, from the northern to the southern regions. He emphasizes that this issue is often kept under wraps and not openly discussed, which he believes is problematic. He said that there is a significant amount of pain and tragedy associated with such incidents, and it is crucial to address these underlying issues.
Rahul Gandhi urged the Indian diaspora residing in foreign nations to share their perspective on what India truly represents and how Indians feel. He expressed his concern that BJP distorts the essence of India, its history, and its philosophy.
Gandhi emphasized that the great leaders of India, such as Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, and Guru Nanak, embodied the principles of love (mohabbat) and humility. These leaders preached compassion, non-violence, and the acceptance of all individuals, regardless of their backgrounds.
However, Gandhi questioned the presence of love and humility in the ideology and actions of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP. He raised concerns about instances where these principles might be overlooked or undermined in the pursuit of their political agenda.
When sought opinion on secularism , Rahul Gandhi emphasized the importance of religious freedom and the right for individuals to practice their chosen religion. He said that it is a personal privilege and choice, and one should not impose their religion on others.
However, when it comes to the separation of religion and politics in India, Gandhi acknowledged the difficulty in achieving a complete separation. He stated that religion is deeply embedded in Indian society and is intertwined with politics at various levels. Despite the challenges, Gandhi asserts that the state should not be aligned with any particular religion and must act in the interest of all citizens impartially.