Why he hugged PM Modi, to the dangers of exclusion: What Rahul Gandhi said in Germany

The Congress president spoke of how the current government’s policies were fuelling violence and hampering India’s growth.

 |  8-minute read |   23-08-2018
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Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s speeches and public appearances often make headlines for the wrong reasons, even when he does not deserve the flak.

On August 22, Gandhi addressed a gathering at the Kampnagel Theater, Bucerius Summer School, in Hamburg, Germany, where he spoke about a plethora of issues, and answered questions from the audience, with his unique insight and perspectives.

The Congress president emphasized upon the need for inclusiveness. 'Hate is a choice, and so is your reaction to hate'. (Photo: Twitter/@RahulGandhi)

The Congress president spoke about the message of non-violence and forgiveness, about the power of listening to people, Indian men’s attitude towards women, the race with China that doesn’t exist for him, US-Indo-China ties, a vision for Western Europe, and Iraq’s tribal dynamics and the creation of ISIS.

However, out of all the things he spoke, sections of the Indian media chose to pick up: “Rahul Gandhi said he wanted to give a message of nonviolence to PM Modi, but PM Modi didn’t like it.”

The issues addressed by Gandhi encapsulated the social and political struggles India is facing today, and he spoke like a true leader on each topic. Here are some of the important points made by him at the event:

On India’s growth story and who put the brakes

Gandhi spoke of the vision India had had at the time of Independence and how it had been damaged by the Narendra Modi government in the past four years.

“Seven decades ago, when India got independence, a nation that was isolated and had had no growth for a long time began a process of transformation. The transformation was essentially about Indian people breaking away from various social barriers such as caste, creed and religion, and gain upward mobility. It was not an easy transition — millions of people took risk in the process as the ways of their lives changed rapidly,” Gandhi said.

“One of the fundamental components of this great transition was that everybody should be included in it. India shouldn’t transform for just one community — universal adult franchise was at the core of this idea. We are a nation of many languages, cultures and communities, and everybody had to be included in the transformation. The other component was that since the transformation would mean different levels of risk for different groups — Dalits, women, tribal, minorities — the government should support them in going through the transformation smoothly by providing a cushion to them.”

The Congress president said these two ideas of India’s great transformation had been held up by successive governments since independence, but the present government had attacked these very ideas.

“There is a narrative in India now that all groups and communities shouldn’t have access to this transformation. They (the BJP government) feel that tribal communities, poor farmers, lower caste people, minorities shouldn't get the same benefits as the elite,” Gandhi said. He added that the Modi government had started attacking the support system for the weak and vulnerable communities, by diluting laws and weakening schemes and provisions, such as the Right to Information Act, food securities Act, the MGNREGA, etc.

Gandhi said demonetisation and a poorly conceptualised GST had taken a toll on small businesses. Gandhi said demonetisation and a poorly conceptualised GST had taken a toll on small businesses. (Photo: PTI/file)

“An even bigger damage done by the Modi government to India’s transformation is by hurting those very groups of people who took the biggest risks during the process. India could grow rapidly because of the informal economy — millions of people migrating from rural to urban areas acted as shock absorbers to the nation’s growth and development. But the demonetisation announced by Modi in November 2016 destroyed the cash flow to the informal sector and millions were left unemployed. Further, a badly conceptualised GST resulted in closure of thousands of small businesses,” he said.

“And today, when you hear of the attacks on minorities or of the growing violence in India, these are the reasons behind it. A huge power transformation, which is shaping the entire world, requires certain protection for its people, and that protection is being taken away by the present government, and that’s what India is reacting to.”

On the dangers of exclusion, De-Ba'athification, and ISIS

“In the 21st century, when the world is connected, it is very dangerous to exclude people. When the US attacked Iraq in 2003, they introduced a law that didn’t allow one particular tribe from getting public jobs (De-Ba’athification). At that time, it seemed like an innocuous decision. It was easy for the US to take down Saddam Hussein within a few months without much casualty. But, a few months later, the network that was excluded from jobs in Iraq, the Tikriti tribal network, linked up with a cell phone network and the network of artilleries left in villages, and what you got was an insurgency that fought the US and caused massive casualty. It didn’t stop there, but slowly entered empty spaces, in Iraq, in Syria, and connected with the global internet to form the horrific idea — ISIS,” Gandhi said.   

“If you don’t embrace people, if you don’t give them a vision, somebody else will, and that may not be a great vision. That is the risk of excluding people from our development processes,” he said.  

Hate is a choice, listening is powerful

“Years ago, I had a conversation with the former US Defence Secretary, Robert McNamara, on his experiences of the Vietnam War and his big takeaways. He told me, ‘You know, Rahul, during the war, we would spend a lot of time talking to Vietnamese Generals. But we never listened. It was only after the war, when I met the same Generals, that I realised that what they were telling us was not what we were hearing and vice versa. If we had listened, we could have saved lives.’”

“In the 21st century, you have to listen to everybody. You can disagree, but you have to listen to what they are saying, where they are coming from. Hate is a choice, and hate is a dangerous thing in a connected world. In the Congress party, we bring people together, we carry as many people as possible with us in the transformation process. There is a lot of hatred in the world today, but not enough act of listening. Listening is very powerful, and it can change the world.”

How to fight violence? Only through non-violence

Gandhi said non-violence was a foundational philosophy of our nation, and the essence of being Indian. “If someone hates you, that’s their choice, but responding to their hate with hate is foolish, as it will not solve any problem. The only thing that is in your control is your reaction to hate. So when the prime minister was making hateful remarks about me, I was feeling that I needed to hug him and tell him that the world was not such a bad place,” Gandhi said.

“The only way you can fight violence is through non-violence, there is no other way. You may think you are very powerful and you can fight it, but it will come back. Violence is caused because of some anger, that anger has to be removed. I lost two members of my family, but when I looked at violence in the eye, I realised that the only way to move forward was through forgiveness. A lot of people think non-violence is a weakness, but it is, in fact, a strength.”

Who is winning the race between India and China?

“The question inherently implies as if both of us are racing towards one thing, but that’s not how I see it. India and China have different visions. China maybe growing at 11 per cent, but then I will ask how many people in China have freedom of speech? Each country has its own vision for growth. Reductive statements like ‘who is wining, who is losing’ is 20th century stuff. In the 21st century, we are both winning, I am wining here, you are winning there.”

Position of Indian women and their safety

“I disagree with the idea that India is the most unsafe place for women, but treatment of women in India still leaves a lot to be desired. There is a lot of violence against women in India, some on the streets, some inside the home. It all boils down to the attitude of Indian men towards Indian women, and it requires a huge amount of work to change the culture. The level of violence in general is increasing in India and whenever that happens, the weakest sections suffer the most, so women today are facing that violence.”

the Modi government had started attacking the support system for the weak and vulnerable communities. Gandhi claimed the Modi government was attacking the support system for the weak and vulnerable communities. (Photo: PTI/file)

“In terms of policy, we have to include more women in the political system. We need more women in political parties, in the Parliament and the state legislatures. The Congress party is very conscious of including women at all levels — we are presently championing the demand for 33 per cent reservation for women in the Parliament. You simply cannot build a successful country if you don’t include women. So when they ask me are you winning the race, that is a race I would like to win.”

On India’s growing population

“I don’t view population as a problem, but as productive people. I don’t have a problem with the number as long as they are educated and connected to the workforce. I don’t subscribe to the ideas of harsh population control measures adopted by China. We have to produce jobs. China produces 50,000 jobs per 24 hours, whereas India produces 450. The way forward is to strengthen the small and medium businesses, and in that we can learn from Germany.”

Also read: Why Modicare is not another jumla: Busting myths about Ayushman Bharat


Sanjukta Basu Sanjukta Basu @sanjukta

Freelance writer, photographer and women studies scholar, and a part of the Karwan E Mohabbat group. She writes on social marginalisation, minority rights and women issues.

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