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. 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 vice-president 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.