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Rahul Gandhi interacted with students and faculty at Sciences PO University, Paris, France.On a question that what needs to be done to make sure that all citizens enjoy the benefits of India’s growing economy, Rahul Gandhi said- I mean that’s a very complicated question. First of all, thank you for having me here… it’s an honour to be here. I would rather be sitting there (amongst students) frankly, but I don’t have that choice anymore. Thank you for your time.
India in our Constitution is defined as India, that is Bharat, a union of states. So, these states… they have got together and formed India or Bharat. And the most important thing is that the voice of all the people who are included in these states is heard loud and clear, and no voice is crushed, intimidated because I believe that India has an inherent wisdom…that it has a very long history, a long tradition. And my experience has been that regardless of whether people are poor or rich, they have a sense of what India should be doing and where it should be going.
So, to me the first step is protecting that voice and making sure that the institutions, the structures that protect that voice are working and are defended… that’s where the whole thing begins. And I state that because when we say, when we use words like democracy, what we are actually talking about is the voice of people. And listening effectively to that voice, allowing that voice expression is central to any success. And we have experienced that pretty much everything that we have achieved so far… whether it is our economic growth, our ability to manage, our differences… the bed rock of it is this idea that we protect the voice of all our people. And our leader Mahatma Gandhi said it best when he said that the most important voice is the one that’s last in the line, it is the most difficult voice to protect and a nation that is doing that will succeed.
On another question that on which side is India in international relations, Rahul Gandhi said-* You know there was a leader in India once and they were asked – on whose side are you? Do you lean left? Or do you lean right? And she said – no, we stand straight in the middle. So… when you are dealing with a country this size of India, we have to have relationships with multiple different countries and I think it’s a simplification to say – whose side are you on. The blunt answer to that is we are on our own side and as a nation, we act in our interest and we do whatever suits us, with regards to our interest. I don’t think it’s so black and white… are you on this person’s side, or are you on that person’s side? For a large country like ours, it becomes very difficult to come up with an answer for that.
But we do have a strong view that voice and democracy are important. I am sure many of my friends from India will understand this… this notion of clear-cut black and white… this is not an Indian notion. Indian people, their basic architecture is designed to deal with much more complexity and much more nuance. So, I don’t necessarily buy the… you are either on this side or you are on this side… but I can see clearly that there is a problem and that problem requires a solution. It’s a global problem and more than a global problem, it’s a problem for India, it’s a problem for Europe, and it’s a problem for the United States and frankly, it’s a problem for all of you in this room because you’re going to have to deal with the problem. And the problem is that we have a planet today where the bulk of production, the bulk of manufacturing, the bulk of value addition is being done in China. And I am not going to comment on whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. The Chinese have successfully competed against us and achieved it. There is a problem with… in my view, there is a problem with the way they do it. They produce… they are very good at producing, they produce the phone in my pocket, they produce the camera, but they do it in non-democratic, coercive conditions.
And the problem is that for us, we need to think about production in a democratic environment, production in a non-coercive environment and we need to be able to compete with them, meaning they don’t need to give their population political freedom, they can just give them economic freedom and then become the central production globally. We have to produce and compete with them, and we have to give our people political freedom and economic freedom. So, that is really the challenge, I don’t see it as a confrontation with China. China has placed on the table a way of working, a way of production. And I think it is important for the United States, for India, for Europe to place an alternative system, an alternative method on the table. And I think we owe it to… certainly, we owe it to our population and I think the French, and the Europeans owe it to their population because we are not going to be able to manage our countries, we are not going to be able to give students like you jobs without doing that. So, to me, it’s an opportunity to say – can we produce in democratic structure, within democratic framework.
On another question that about the violence against minorities, Dalit community in India and what needs to be done against it, Shri Rahul Gandhi said- I think it needs to be combatted, I think it requires a political imagination, and I think it is very important that it is done. What the BJP and the RSS are trying to do… the heart of what they are trying to do… is trying to stop the expression, the participation of lower castes, other backward castes, tribals and minority communities. And for me, an India where a Dalit person or a Muslim person, tribal person, upper caste person, anybody is being mistreated, is being attacked… is not the India I want. So, I think it’s very important that this question is taken head on. But I don’t think that the type of political imagination that is required is currently there. It is ebbs and flows. So, you have these moments, you have this expression and then they ebb away. And I think we are at one of those points where they have sort of ebbed away and we need to reconstruct the political imagination that will solve the problem you are talking about. For me, this is the central problem in India, this is bigger than any other problem.
On another question about the proposal to change India’s name to Bharat and its international perspective, Shri Rahul Gandhi said- Well, the Constitution actually uses both names. So, the line in the Constitution is the line I started with “India, that is Bharat, is a union of states”. So, I don’t really see a problem there. Both words are perfectly acceptable, but I think maybe we irritated the government a little bit because we named our coalition INDIA. So, that got them all heated up and now they have decided to change the name of the country. You know how these things are. I mean we could always give our coalition a second name as well. So, I mean, I don’t think it will solve the purpose, but people act in strange ways. What do you think about it?… You are right but there is something deeper that is going on, which is that people who want to change the name of anything… are basically trying to deny history. The fact of the matter is whether we like it or we don’t like it, we have a history. We were ruled by the British. We fought the British. We defeated the British. I am sure the English don’t like it, but English is spoken by more Indians than English people. It’s our language more than theirs.
And we speak it in our own way, we twist it and we turn it maybe in ways they don’t like. So, the English that is spoken in India is actually a different expression that is spoken in England. Embedded in that English is a huge history, lot of pain, lot of happiness, imaginations, struggle… those things are embedded and the people who want to change the name want to erase that. They don’t want that the history of our country is known to our future generation. It disturbs them. I believe that we should accept our history. If we were ruled by the British for 100-200 years, okay! we dealt with it and let’s move on. So, it is a deeper question.
On another question that how can India be continued to be called the largest democracy in the world given that many journalists and civil society members have been targeted, and what is the Opposition doing to help them, Shri Rahul Gandhi said- I mean we are… I walked across the country 4,000 kilometers to raise some of these issues. What you are saying is absolutely correct. There is a tendency now to intimidate, to threaten not just members of civil society… I have 24 cases on me. I have got a criminal defamation judgement against me, the first time in Indian history that somebody has been given the maximum sentence for criminal defamation… very convenient that I needed the exact number of days that they gave me to be disqualified. So, we are dealing with this issue. The democratic expression is deeply embedded in India and the fight to keep the democratic structure of India alive is ongoing and very vibrant. We are part of that fight. Now, when that fight is over… if that fight is over and the other side wins, then I would agree with you. But that has not happened yet, and I do not think it’s going to happen. We are going through a process; we are going through turbulence in our democratic structure and the millions of people… I am sure there are many-many youngsters in this room who really believe in that democratic structure… and I am going to defend it with everything that they have got. So, it’s a fight and I think it’s also an opportunity to rethink, and to reimagine our country. There are many things that can do with improvement and I think this is an opportunity, this is a test that many countries go through, and I think we will come out just fine in this test.
On a question about the growing radicalisation due to Hindu nationalist rhetoric and the role of Hinduism in a post-BJP India if Opposition coalition gets elected, Shri Rahul Gandhi said-* I have read the Gita, I have read number of the Upanishads, I have read many Hindu books… there is nothing Hindu about what the BJP does. There is absolutely nothing, nothing Hindu about what the BJP does.I have not read anywhere in any Hindu book, from no learned Hindu person have I ever heard that you should terrorise, harm people who are weaker than you… I have never read this.So, this idea… this word ‘Hindu nationalists’… this is a wrong word. They are not Hindu nationalists; they have nothing to do with Hinduism. They are out to get power at any cost and they will do anything to get power and they will do anything to ensure that the Indian caste structure, the social structure of my country is not threatened. They want dominance of a few people and that is what they are about, there is nothing Hindu about them.
On another question about the Opposition’s narratives for the next election, Shri Rahul Gandhi said- When you see the people on the stage in the INDIA coalition, you must realise that more people from the majority community vote for us than vote for BJP. 60 per cent of India votes for us. 40 per cent of India votes for them. So, this idea that the majority community is voting for the BJP… this is a wrong idea. The majority community actually votes more for us than they vote for them. They do polarise society. They divide society. They spread hatred in society and that is their mechanism. They also happen to have very good relationships with the most powerful, richest crony capitalists in the land, who finance them, support them, help them do what they do. And so, this is the architecture that stands behind the BJP. The idea that Mr. Narendra Modi is orchestrating this thing is a gross simplification. Mr. Narendra Modi is an instrument of the architecture, and I am pretty confident that the RSS can get rid of the Narendra Modi in 5 minutes if they want to. It is a structure that is doing this, and that structure is now a threat to Indian democracy. So, we are committed to fighting that structure.What are the broader elements. The first thing is the gross inequality that is taking place in India. Few business people who are billionaires… the third richest person on the planet was Indian and 90 per cent of India going back into poverty. So, that is the first thing.
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