Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s four-day visit to the United Kingdom and Germany starting August 21 has been eventful – and not just because a tweet posted by the party’s official handle went viral and was widely mocked.
Packing in several events in these two countries, Gandhi made a number of statements that have resulted in a steady stream of attention and led to mini-controversies. Among other things, he contended that unemployment in India has led to lynchings, that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh reminded him of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and that the Congress party was not involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots
Here is a rundown of his most notable remarks:
On the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
At the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London on August 24, Gandhi compared the RSS, the Hindutva organisation, to the Muslim Brotherhood, a political Islamist group founded in 1928 in Egypt. He also said that the idea of demonetising old Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes, announced by Narendra Modi in 2016, came from the RSS, and claimed that the finance minister, the Reserve Bank of India and the Union Cabinet were unaware of the decision.
“RSS is trying to change the nature of India,” he said. “Other parties haven’t tried to capture India’s institutions. RSS’ idea is similar to the idea of Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world…And the idea is that one ideology should run through every single institution; one idea should crush all other ideas.”
On his candidature as prime minister
While addressing the Indian Journalists Association in London on August 25, Gandhi said that he had no ambition of becoming prime minister, according to a report by the Hindustan Times. “I don’t have these visions [of seeing myself as prime minister],” he said. “I view myself as fighting an ideological battle and this change has come in me after 2014. I realised that there is a risk to the Indian state, to the Indian way of doing things and I am defending that.”
He added that the 2019 general elections would be “pretty straightforward” as the Opposition, through its multiple alliances, would fight against the BJP. “I can tell you, the original idea of India is going to win, 100%,” he said. “We are defending an onslaught on the Indian Constitution and institutions. Me and the entire Opposition see it as defending the nature of the Indian state.”
On the anti-Sikh riots of 1984
On August 24, at the UK Parliament in London, Gandhi was questioned about the criminal involvement of Congress party members in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, in which at least 2,433 people were killed in Delhi alone. Gandhi condemned the attacks, but also said that he did not think that the Congress party was involved.
“I have no confusion about it in my mind,” Gandhi said. “It was a tragedy. It was a painful experience. You say that the Congress party was involved in that, I do not agree with that. There was certainly violence. There was certainly tragedy.”
He said that anyone found guilty of wrongdoing should be punished, and that he would “support that 100%”.
His comments on the non-involvement of the Congress party in the riots triggered criticism from the BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal.
Gandhi was again questioned on the 1984 riots at another event later that day, held at the London School of Economics. In his response, he referred to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s apology made in Parliament in 2005. “When Manmohan Singh spoke, he spoke for all of us,” he said. He also added that he knew what it was like to be a “victim of violence” and condemned violence of any sort.
On why the Congress lost in 2014
At the London School of Economics, he said that he could not ignore senior leaders as they added value to the party, reported The Indian Express. He said that the party faced an internal threat of “arrogance”, when questioned about its strengths and weaknesses.
“The present has to be a merger of the future and the past and that is really why the Congress ran into trouble in 2014,” he said. “…Because we found that there was an internal fight taking place between the older generation and the younger generation and a lot of the work we have done now is try to bring them together successfully.”
Hours after his remarks, the Congress, on August 25, announced the formation of three panels for the 2019 elections – the core committee, the publicity committee and the manifesto committee. These committees comprise both senior leaders and new faces.
On the Doklam stand off and surgical strikes
In June, 2017, the Indian and Chinese armies engaged in a standoff at Doklam, an area on the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China that is claimed by both Beijing and Thimphu and is of strategic importance to New Dellhi.
At the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Gandhi was asked how he perceived the issue and how he would tackle it if he were the prime minister. He said that while he did not have the details of Doklam, he was certain that “the Chinese are still in Doklam today”.
“Doklam is not an unrelated episode,” he said. “It is not a one off. It is not a border issue. It is a strategic issue. It is a part of a sequence of events. Doklam was a crisis that happened because the government is episodic.”
He added: “The government and prime minister views things very much from an event perspective. I view Doklam as a process, as a point in a process. I would look at the process and tackle the process.”
During the same event, Gandhi said that he supported the surgical strikes by the Indian Army on Pakistani posts across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir in 2016.
On the National Registry of Citizens in Assam
The publication of the final draft of the National Register of Citizens in Assam on July 30 has led to bickering between the BJP and the Opposition. The register, a list of all Indian citizens in Assam, is being updated for the first time since 1951. The stated aim of the exercise is to identify and root out those whom the State deems to be “illegal migrants”. The terms of inclusion in the register were laid down by the Assam Accord of 1985 –when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister – the culmination of a six-year-long anti-foreigners’ agitation in the state. Under the terms of inclusion, anyone who cannot prove that they or their ancestors entered India before midnight on March 24, 1971 – the eve of the Bangladesh War – will be declared a foreigner. The final draft left out 40 lakh names.
Speaking at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Gandhi said that he agreed with the exercise but questioned its implementation. “We started it [updating the National Register of Citizens in Assam],” he said. “It was our idea. But there is serious issue with the implementation.”
He added: “There are a large number of people who are Indians from all communities who are in that list.”
On campaign financing for the 2019 elections
At the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Gandhi was asked about the gap in campaign financing between the Congress and the BJP, given that some “businesses had ideological proclivities” with the ruling party. Gandhi responded, saying that businesses were “facing pressure” from various institutions in the country and that the BJP had “tremendous power” to hurt these businesses. “You will be surprised with the mood of the business community in India,” he said. “It will shock you. The business community expected a tremendous amount from Mr Modi and pretty much all of them are coming to us and telling us that he failed. A lot of them are telling us that they will support us. They are saying that they are terrified to say it publicly and, ‘for god’s sake don’t tell anybody’.”
He also claimed that the BJP would lose the 2019 general elections if Opposition parties formed an alliance in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two states that hold a chunk of Lok Sabha seats.
On lynching incidents and unemployment
In Germany, on August 23, Gandhi claimed that incidents of lynching and mob violence occurred in India due to unemployment and the harm demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax had caused to small businesses. He claimed that demonetisation destroyed the country’s cash flow and led to a widespread loss of jobs in the informal sector. He criticised the Goods and Services Tax by stating that its implementation was “badly conceptualised…badly thought out” and had led to the closure of small businesses.
“When you hear about lynchings in India…when you hear about attacks on Dalits in India…when you hear about attacks on minorities in India…that’s [lynching] the reason for it,” he said while addressing a gathering at Bucerius Summer School on Global Governance in Hamburg.