Gandhi said the 2019 elections would be a straightforward BJP vs the entire Opposition.
As Rahul Gandhi entered the New Academic Building at the London School of Economics (LSE) he shook hands with everyone seated in the front row. He was escorted by Sam Pitroda and Manish Tewari. He has been in London talking to Parliament, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the LSE. After the warm welcome by Shirley Pearce, Head of Council at LSE, and joint host Sanam Arora the Founder/Chairperson of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU), Mukulika Banerjee the Director of LSE South Asia Centre posed a few questions to Gandhi before only students from LSE, Warwick, Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and London Universities were allowed to ask questions. Rahul Gandhi opened the conversation with some insights about how people developed different perspectives and how differing perspectives were valuable. He warned about possible conflicts building up in Western Europe, United States and China. He said India was too big, too intelligent and too refined to take sides. Banerjee asked what else he brought to the job as Congress president apart from his family name. Gandhi referred to the violence he had experienced in his life, which had made him a compassionate person who reached out and listened to people; he said wanted to help the poor and the persecuted.
Banerjee asked him about his vision for social justice, secularism and economic policy. He said he viewed all these as related and attributed India’s transformation to date to the modernising impulse of 100 years ago, that he would like to expand. Then his answer steered the conversation towards farmers and agriculture. The farmers needed a minimum support price and farm loan waiver for protection against flood or drought, he said. He accused the BJP government of not appreciating the Indian farmer. On secularism he suggested the nation could not progress with exclusion.
On economics he identified the job-crisis as the problem—there were not enough jobs and the government was in denial. He suggested it can be solved through SMEs, revitalising agriculture, infrastructure and building low cost houses.
Banerjee asked for a SWOT (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats) analysis of the Congress. Gandhi said the 2019 elections would be a straightforward BJP vs the entire Opposition. He said there was a feeling that Indian institutions (justice, journalism) needed defending, ditto the inclusive idea of India. He added that because of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar it would be difficult for BJP to win the election.
Throughout he referred to the Congress as an institution, likening the institution to a tool, which, under his stewardship, could empower people.
Gandhi said Congress and RSS were old ideas that have been in combat for years. He claimed that the RSS vision was top to bottom, where knowledge was centralised; on the other hand, Congress was a decentralised structure where knowledge was available to everyone, with the aim to reduce hierarchy and bring government to the people. But he believed the RSS was better at articulating its message. He said Congress used to rely on “Gandhiji” and the leaders of the freedom struggle and that the party had not kept up the pace. He returned to the theme of the Congress wanting to protect the vulnerable and attract the youth. Then he alluded to the value of senior people by saying, “You can’t break the past so the present has to be a merger between the present and the past.” He praised the work of Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan.
The audience applauded when he said that 10-12 Indian MPs were helping run Britain from the same room in Parliament that Britain had run India from.
Regarding 1984 he said, Manmohan Singh spoke for all of Congress. He condemned all violence and said he was 100% for punishment of the people involved.
Banerjee asked if his personal vision of non-violence could become a part of how Congress managed communalism under his stewardship. He answered, “Unquestionably.”
Banerjee’s final question was about a possible PM candidate if Congress did not get a majority. Gandhi said the first priority was to remove the BJP and that Congress would work with parties ideologically aligned. Their manifesto was a work in progress.
When a student questioned him about fighting corruption, Gandhi chose the RTI Act as the single most powerful instrument, followed by Lokpal and Panchayati Raj. He swiftly moved to the Rafale deal, which he claimed, went to Anil Ambani magically. He complained that the media was not picking it up.
Rahul Gandhi, though he seemed affable, perhaps did not have the desired impact on the audience. The consensus amongst some spoken to following the event was that he had not reached the level of maturity and gravitas to be Prime Minister, yet.
In the Houses of Parliament, Rahul Gandhi addressed some Labour MPs including Seema Malhotra, Keith Vaz and Virendra Sharma and Congress’ Diaspora supporters. Many were surprised at IISS when Gandhi likened the RSS to the banned terrorist outfit Muslim Brotherhood. He also said he did not have sufficient details about Doklam to say how he could have handled it differently. Observers of body language might have taken note of Manish Tewari’s apparent discomfort.
At LSE, Rahul Gandhi appeared relaxed and in his comfort zone with the young, nevertheless he was fidgety with his right foot.
On Saturday Gandhi was to speak at the Royal Society of Medicine with Dr Sudhakar and Dr Vinod Metta regarding important issues facing British and Indian healthcare.
It is not known if Gandhi met with any ministers from the Conservative government.