Bharatiya Janata Party MP Varun Gandhi on Friday said that he has turned down an invitation to participate in a debate organised by the Oxford University on whether India is on the right path under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership.

The development came at a time when his cousin and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is being criticised by the BJP for his speech in London.

The former Congress president had claimed that India was facing an attack on the basic structure of its democracy and a “full-scale assault” on the institutions of the country. He also told British MPs that microphones of Opposition leaders were muted in Parliament and described the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as a “fundamentalist” and “fascist” organisation.

During a lecture at the Cambridge University, Rahul Gandhi had claimed that several politicians, including himself, were under surveillance using Israeli-made Pegasus spyware.

BJP leaders and several senior ministers have accused Gandhi of defaming India on foreign soil and asked him to apologise for his remarks. His comments have also led to an uproar in Parliament, with both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha failing to carry out any significant proceedings since the second leg of the Budget Session started on Monday.

Oxford Union’s President Matthew Dick invited Varun Gandhi to participate in the debate, scheduled between April and June, reported PTI.

“Against the backdrop of ever-strong popularity among voters, it is imperative to discuss whether the BJP’s direction under Modi has been more polarising than unifying,” the invite said. “The question then becomes: what [or who] is the right path for India as it forges ahead into the future?”

However, the MP from Uttar Pradesh’s Pilibhit in his response said that there is no merit or integrity in voicing domestic challenges at an international forum and that such a step will be a “dishonourable act”.

The BJP leader also said that he believed the topic of the debate was one with a predefined conclusion.

“As an elected representative, I see it as my job to strengthen our system by studying and evaluating policy initiatives and offering feedback; by taking up issues of national interest and suggesting possible solutions; by engaging with the public to raise and showcase legitimate concerns,” he added. “It is a priority to participate in the national debate both within Parliament and through other fora in a constant and constructive manner.”

Notably, Varun Gandhi has been vocal about his criticism of the Centre’s policies. He was also dropped from the BJP’s national executive committee in 2021 after he had strongly criticised the violence in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district where eight people, four of them farmers, were killed during a protest against the Centre’s now-repealed agriculture laws.

In January, the politician had said that no patient suffering from a rare disease has benefitted from the Centre’s policy that assures them financial support. In a letter to Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, Varun Gandhi had urged him to provide financial support under the scheme.