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Rahul Gandhi: 'I’m here for the long haul. I don’t run away from challenges'

In this excerpt from an interview in a forthcoming book, the Congress leader explains what keeps him ticking in spite of the relentless attacks from political opponents

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addresses an election campaign rally for the upcoming Assembly polls, in Mahendergarh district of Haryana (Photo: PTI)
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addresses an election campaign rally for the upcoming Assembly polls, in Mahendergarh district of Haryana (Photo: PTI)

Political analysts Pradeep Chhibber and Harsh Shah have structured their new book, India Tomorrow, around "Conversations with the next generation of political leaders", as the subtitle puts it. From Sachin Pilot to Smriti Zubin Irani, Jignesh Mewani to Asaduddin Owaisi, leaders from across the political spectrum are part of their roster of 20 illustrious names.

Each of these personalities, in in-depth interviews, speak about their hopes and vision for the country. Some admit mistakes they have committed, others speak of regrets and shortcomings. Candid and arresting, the conversations make for insightful reading. In the excerpt from the interview with Rahul Gandhi, the Congress leader speaks about his political beliefs, accounts for the "vacations" he takes, and explains what keeps him ticking in spite of the relentless attacks from political opponents. Edited excerpts:

You’ve probably heard this question before, where people say you keep having to run away and leave for vacations. Is that a way for you to get outside of this craziness and harbour some of your passions?

In India, I live my life surrounded by security men, 24x7. As a consequence, in India, I have very little privacy, other than when I’m in my own home. When I’m out of India, I have more space, more privacy. I enjoy learning from other cultures and I love interacting with people from different parts of the world. I don’t see my trips abroad as vacations. For example, when I’m in the United States and if I visit Berkeley to interact with students over there, I learn from that experience. There are new ideas I’m exposed to; new ways of looking at things. These are extremely enriching experiences and that’s what I enjoy most about travelling abroad. The truth is, I’m up against a formidable Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)–Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) political machine that attacks me 24x7, because it sees me as a threat, because it sees the ideas that I represent as a threat. So it has to paint me as someone who isn’t interested, as someone with no understanding, as someone who only wants to go abroad on vacation. The fact that you are asking me this question, proves that their propaganda is somewhat successful.

We discussed this [earlier] as well. How do you counter this machine that you’re talking about?

Clearly, it’s working, it’s resonating with people. It doesn’t work with all people. It works and resonates with some people in an environment where all Indian institutions are captured. Where the press is completely under the control of the establishment. Where the Election Commission creates an election schedule that takes into account the RSS–BJP’s political needs. There is a capture of the system aided by a tremendous amount of money and power. Of course, that’s going to have an impact, but it also helps shape me. It forces me to adapt, to be more effective in my communication, more aggressive perhaps.

So you’re not frustrated?

Of course not! My duty as an opposition leader is to work for the weaker and marginalized sections of the society in this country that needs someone to stand by them, fight for them, so that their voices are heard. I’m constantly evolving. That has nothing to do with electoral victories or defeats and leaves me feeling anything but frustrated.

The sense I’m getting is that you’re in it for the long run, you’re here for the people. Elections will come and go, but that’s not going to have an impact on whether you remain in politics or not.

Absolutely! I’m here for the long haul. I don’t run away from challenges.

What keeps you ticking? What keeps you sticking with it?

I believe that the RSS–BJP ideology is dangerous for the country and that the imposition of that ideology on India and the capture of our key institutions, is going to have a very tragic outcome for the country. I love the people of my country, and in the twenty-first century dividing India along religious lines, along sectarian lines, ethnic lines, North–South lines, and East–West lines is going to irreparably damage us. I will do whatever I can to prevent this from happening. This is what keeps me ticking.

'India Tomorrow' by Pradeep Chhibber and Harsh Shah, Oxford University Press (216 pages, Rs795)
'India Tomorrow' by Pradeep Chhibber and Harsh Shah, Oxford University Press (216 pages, Rs795)

You’ve always framed these elections as an ideological battle. Even after the elections, you said that this was a battle of ideologies and that this battle would continue. Why do you think Indian voters are resonating a lot more with Mr Modi and the BJP’s ideology than the one you and your alliance partners are professing?

The Indian economic model that worked in the 1990s and till about 2012 is not working anymore. The Indian people are unable to see a path out of massive unemployment, rural distress, and the bleak situation they find themselves in. They are worried, they are tense, and in that feeling of worry and tension they need something to hold on to and that something, unfortunately, is Mr Narendra Modi. Ironically, it is Mr Modi himself who has been largely responsible for the mess the country is in today, particularly our economy. One strategy Mr Modi has used effectively is to present India with an enemy, to focus their anger and frustration on, thus turning the spotlight away from his own incompetence and failures. It worked in the 2019 elections, but this approach has a limited shelf life and will eventually fail. I don’t see this as a failure of the Congress ideology, I see this as a victory for the RSS–BJP propaganda machine backed by a subservient media, the capture of institutions, and tremendous amounts of money.

I’m interested in this model you’re talking about. You say that the economic model of India has failed.

Yes, it’s run its course. Every model is designed or based on the peculiar circumstances of the time it was developed for. We don’t live in 1990, we live in 2019. It’s pretty clear that what produced wealth in the 1990s and till about 2010–12, is now accelerating inequality and has created a nation where people can’t get a proper education, can’t access healthcare, and where jobs are not being created. So one needs to rethink some of our basic economic ideas that we’ve taken for granted for almost three decades and try and figure out a new economic model that will help us break out of the shackles of extreme inequality that is generating tremendous anger and anxiety in our society. The tragedy is, that, that work is not being done. The tragedy is that we are having conversations about all sorts of things, but not about how unemployment can be reduced. We are not doing the thinking on how inequality can be done away with. If you looked at our 2019 election manifesto, you’ll see that some of the thinking on how this process can be started, is in there. It’s clear in the manifesto how inequality can be dealt with. We explained how you could develop a higher education system that is accessible to the people, how education can be made more relevant, and what can be done to solve India’s agricultural problem. The blueprint of a new economic model is in our manifesto. But the RSS–BJP continue to live in denial. The today Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth has crashed to 5 per cent, the lowest in over six years. Manufacturing growth is down to just 0.6 per cent, which means manufacturing is dying in India and we’re importing goods mostly from China. There is massive unemployment. But the BJP–RSS refuse to accept that India has an economic problem. So how will you begin fixing a problem whose existence you refuse to even acknowledge?

Excerpted from India Tomorrow by Pradeep Chhibber and Harsh Shah with permission from Oxford University Press.

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