Rahul Gandhi's interaction at 'Ideas for India' conference: Tough questions put to tough men

When was Narendra Modi last invited by a think tank or a foreign university?

Rahul Gandhi and other Indian leaders at an ‘Ideas for India’ conference organised by Bridge India in London
Rahul Gandhi and other Indian leaders at an ‘Ideas for India’ conference organised by Bridge India in London

Ashis Ray/ London

Why is it that Rahul Gandhi, out of power and some would say out of favour of the Indian people, still gets invited abroad and accepts the challenge to answer questions from the audience? Tough questions on power, politics and the party?

The answer possibly is that no think-tank or university of any consequence can or will agree to clamp down on legitimate questions. Inconvenient questions cannot be put to the Indian Prime Minister, who revels in monologues. Few universities are willing to play along.

Rahul Gandhi has just completed a visit to England and was in live conversations at an ‘Ideas for India’ conference organised by Bridge India and at an interaction hosted by Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge.

Among the questions put to him at the first mentioned event was: ‘The reality is, unemployment is at a record level, wholesale inflation… has now reached 15%. Yet the BJP is winning elections and the Congress is not. Why is this happening?’

He was also asked how the Congress and the opposition are going to build a structure to compete with the one built by the RSS, which has penetrated into the masses. It was put to him this was ‘a major challenge, it (the building of a rival structure by the Congress and its allies) hasn’t happened for eight years’. PM Modi is unlikely to allow tough questions from an international audience.

But even after having painted him as ineffective, BJP’s IT Cell and much of Indian media still get agitated about what Rahul Gandhi says. Is it inferiority complex or fear that what he says is closer to the truth and foreign governments and potential investors might also appreciate what he says. Clearly, they consider him to be a threat.

At the Cambridge interface, his long pause before responding to a question that concerned assassination of his father was mocked at by the Hindutva brigade. Clearly, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi is still a raw wound for a noticeably sensitive person.

His eventual reply characterised the man. He said: ‘I think the word that comes to mind is forgiveness.’ It reveals the mindset of the RSS and the BJP that they should put out a video clip without showing the full question and the context.

Thereafter, an Indian bureaucrat on a sabbatical at the university argued, India is not a ‘Union of States’ (as Rahul Gandhi had articulated and as is described in the Indian Constitution), but a ‘nation’ (a word which is also used in the Constitution). Rahul Gandhi contested this by saying: ‘The word nation is a western concept. He stressed the union of states definition ‘goes to the heart of Indian-ness’.

The questioner’s insistence on describing India as a ‘composite culture’ flew against RG’s insistence that India is a remarkable example of unity in diversity, a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious society united by the vision of the country’s founding fathers.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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