‘If we’re ir­rel­e­vant then why is BJP wast­ing time com­ment­ing on us?’

The Asian Age - - Oped -

MILIND DEORA, se­nior Congress leader and for­mer Union min­is­ter, speaks with ASHHAR KHAN about crit­i­cism of Congress vice-pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi’s ad­dress to the stu­dents of Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, which cre­ated quite a flut­ter in In­dia.

Rahul Gandhi is in the US and many of his crit­ics say that he should not have spo­ken about In­dia the way he did in Berke­ley. Your com­ments.

Well, I have been hear­ing this for quiet some­time now. Can any­one ex­plain what was wrong with Mr Gandhi’s speech? The prob­lem is that the BJP wishes to be in de­nial about prob­lems that are af­fect­ing In­dia. If you lis­ten to the en­tire speech, which is about 20 min­utes long, you get the full im­port of things he wanted to con­vey. He men­tioned that In­dia is the largest coun­try in the world to up­lift large sec­tions of its pop­u­la­tion from poverty. He also added that in spite of reser­va­tions from all quar­ters, In­dia has sur­vived and pros­pered for 70 years. But, there is a prob­lem of un­em­ploy­ment and lack of job cre­ation, which the coun­try is fac­ing. So all this talk of “he shouldn’t have spo­ken abroad” is be­ing ped­dled by peo­ple who are un­com­fort­able with the real is­sues plagu­ing In­dia.

Through­out the visit, Mr Gandhi has been telling peo­ple that he is com­mit­ted to work­ing with the Prime Min­is­ter to solve im­por­tant prob­lems con­fronting the nation — the way the Congress did with the GST. You think Mr Gandhi was cor­rect in com­ment­ing on dy­nas­ties?

Mr Gandhi has his views and he ex­pressed them when he was asked a ques­tion. My father was a suc­cess­ful politi­cian and in my own right even I am one. I have con­tested Lok Sabha elec­tions from Mum­bai and have won two suc­ces­sive elec­tions. It is true that I have seen politics while grow­ing up but it’s a path of pub­lic ser­vice which I have cho­sen. As far as the Nehru-Gandhi fam­ily is con­cerned, five gen­er­a­tions have de­voted them­selves to the ser­vice of this coun­try.

It is also a fact that for 32 years there is no mem­ber of the Nehru-Gandhi fam­ily, who has ac­cepted or taken oath of of­fice; not that there is any bar. Mr Gandhi was also a mem­ber of Par­lia­ment when the UPA was in of­fice. So­nia Gandhi was elected as the leader, yet it was their de­ci­sion. The fun­da­men­tal point is that they are be­ing elected from their con­stituen­cies via di­rect elec­tions. I also see it more as a po­lit­i­cal legacy that we have in­her­ited rather than dy­nasty. Dy­nas­ties ap­ply to monar­chs.

The BJP has termed Mr Gandhi as a failed politi­cian and has fur­ther said that he is be­com­ing ir­rel­e­vant in na­tional politics… If ac­cord­ing to the BJP, Mr Gandhi is ir­rel­e­vant then why was there a bat­tery of BJP min­is­ters and lead­ers at­tack­ing him as soon as he fin­ished speak­ing? I am sur­prised at the crit­i­cism which is un­war­ranted and un­jus­ti­fied that has been made by the gov­ern­ment.

What has hap­pened to the econ­omy is for all of us to see. We are not pro­duc­ing qual­ity re­search, which is a pre-req­ui­site to trans­for­ma­tive in­no­va­tions. Ill thought-out and wrongly con­ceived poli­cies have crushed our econ­omy.

The state­ments and is­sues raised by them be­tray ig­no­rance of his­tory and ea­ger­ness to please their po­lit­i­cal masters. Mr Gandhi had only spo­ken about the achieve­ments of In­dia since In­de­pen­dence and thanks to the vi­sion of Jawa­har­lal Nehru and suc­ces­sive Prime Min­is­ters that we laid the foun­da­tions of a mod­ern nation-state, built in­sti­tu­tions of ex­cel­lence, which are ac­knowl­edged and recog­nised. We pro­duced men and women who could com­pete with the rest of the world, which was demon­strated when the com­mu­ni­ca­tion and the IT rev­o­lu­tion set the world in the late 1980s and 1990s.

You were also a min­is­ter in the UPA gov­ern­ment. Do you think some ar­ro­gance had crept in the party... Mr

Gandhi ac­cepted it?

I have said this ear­lier too that we were un­able to gauge the mood of the peo­ple in 2014 and even in 2012. But if Mr Gandhi has said so openly then what is wrong in it? We all make mis­takes and move on. Ours is a demo­cratic party where we all have di­ver­gent views but come to­gether for the idea of In­dia, which we all be­lieve in. Also, till the time we don’t look within our­selves how can we im­prove?

Why ex­actly is Mr Gandhi in the US?

Sam Pitroda and I thought Mr Gandhi should in­ter­act with friends of the Congress in the States. UC Berke­ley, where Mr Gandhi spoke, has long been a beacon of free speech and lib­eral val­ues. I had the priv­i­lege of speak­ing there in 2015 and I was de­bat­ing be­tween Stan­ford Univer­sity and UC Berke­ley. I fi­nally chose the lat­ter be­cause Jawa­har­lal Nehru also ad­dressed the univer­sity in 1949.

I have tapped into my fam­ily’s and my per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with tech lead­ers, me­dia and entertainment ex­ec­u­tives and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in Palo Alto, Los An­ge­les and Wash­ing­ton, DC to give Mr Gandhi wide ex­po­sure so that he can meet peo­ple and ex­change ideas.

Mr Gandhi also spoke about “man­aged trolls” who are out there to tar­nish his im­age. Do you think it’s a new men­ace?

I am ac­tive on so­cial me­dia plat­forms. I have over a mil­lion fol­low­ers on Twit­ter. But yes trolls have be­come a ma­jor men­ace. There are peo­ple who con­stantly hurl abuses, per­sonal com­ments on our party in an or­gan­ised fash­ion. The worst part of all this is that th­ese peo­ple are paid trolls and bots.

Crit­ics claim that the In­dian Na­tional Congress is slowly be­com­ing ir­rel­e­vant in na­tional politics and that is why its vi­cepres­i­dent is abroad seek­ing sup­port…

If they think we are ir­rel­e­vant then why are they wast­ing their pre­cious time com­ment­ing on us? In three years of the BJP gov­ern­ment look at the GDP fig­ures, em­ploy­ment and job cre­ation fig­ures, small and medium busi­ness.

Also, look at the large busi­ness as such. What has hap­pened to the econ­omy is for all of us to see. We are not pro­duc­ing qual­ity re­search, which is pre­req­ui­site to trans­for­ma­tive in­no­va­tions. Ill thought-out and wrongly con­ceived poli­cies have crushed our econ­omy. The present gov­ern­ment is only build­ing from our ideas but is un­able to im­ple­ment them in a cor­rect way.

Se­cond, it should be clear that the visit of Mr Gandhi is to ex­change ideas. The visit is caus­ing heart­burn to many spe­cially after the UC Berke­ley ad­dress, which is ex­actly why I chose the univer­sity.

Do you think that it is time for Mr Gandhi to take over as the pres­i­dent of the party?

We all know that the Congress is a demo­cratic party. Presently, the or­gan­i­sa­tional elec­tions are go­ing on in the party. It’s a process which is play­ing it­self out and will cul­mi­nate as per the wishes of Congress mem­bers. The sup­port for Mr Gandhi is ev­i­dent in­side as well as out­side the party.

So let’s not pre-judge the process, which is in play at the mo­ment.

Milind Deora

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