Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of running a social media campaign against him. He also blamed being known as a “reluctant politician” on the Bharatiya Janata Party, claiming that the party had spread that rumour.
Gandhi made the statements at an event titled “India at 70: Reflections on the Path Forward” at the University of California in Berkeley, where he was invited to speak.
“There is a BJP machine of about 1,000 guys sitting at computers and telling you about me,” he said. “Realise that there is a tremendous machine. All they do is spread rumours about me. The operation is run by the gentleman running our country,” he said.
Gandhi further accused the Modi government of promoting violence and politics of polarisation. “Hatred, anger and violence can destroy us,” he said. “Liberal journalists are being shot; people are being lynched; Dalits are being killed over suspicion of carrying beef; Muslims are killed over suspicion of eating beef – all this is new in India,” he said.
On demonetisation and GST
The Congress leader said the Modi government’s decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in November 2016 was a “unilateral” move. He said the decision was made without consulting the chief economic adviser, the Cabinet or Parliament.
“Demonetisation imposed a devastating cost [on the country],” Gandhi said. “It cost us 2% loss in the Gross Domestic Product [growth]. The government’s economic policies and the hastily applied Goods and Services Tax can cause tremendous damage.”
Drawbacks on the Congress
Gandhi also commented on the Congress’ shortcomings and what had led to decline of the United Progressive Alliance. “Around 2012, arrogance had crept into the Congress party, and we stopped having conversations with the people,” he said.
He also appeared to deflect from the criticism of dynastic politics in India. “That is how India works,” Gandhi said. “Dynastic politics is a problem in all political parties. Akhilesh Yadav, Stalin and even actor Abhishek Bachchan are dynasts. Even Prem Kumar Dhumal’s son Anurag Thakur is a dynast. So don’t go just after me.”
When asked whether he was willing to be the Congress’ prime ministerial candidate, Gandhi said he was “absolutely ready”. “We have an organisational party which decides that, and the process for that is currently on,” he said. “That decision is something the Congress party should make.”
The Congress scion also praised Modi’s oratorical skills, but said the prime minister did not communicate with the people he works with. “Even members of Parliament and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have told me that,” he claimed.
Kashmir and terrorism
Gandhi said he had worked with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as former Union ministers P Chidambaram and Jairam Ramesh on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. He claimed that the UPA administration “broke the back of terror” by 2013, before which terrorism was rampant in the Valley.
“I hugged Manmohan Singh and told him it was one of our biggest achievements,” he said.
Gandhi further said that the People’s Development Party in Kashmir was instrumental in drawing youngsters to politics, but that the BJP had destroyed the party since allying with it. “The prime minister massively opened up space for terrorists in Kashmir, and then you saw an increase in violence,” he added.