San Francisco: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for demonetisation and the hastily implemented Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime. Both he said caused “tremendous damage to the Indian economy”.
Gandhi, who is on a two-week visit to the US to interact with political leaders, global thinkers and overseas Indians, spoke on the political environment in the country, the Congress party, the effects of demonetisation among other issues.
“Government’s economic policy of demonetisation and the hastily implemented GST has caused tremendous pressure on the economy,” Gandhi said while addressing the students of the University of California in Berkeley on ‘India at 70: Reflections on the Path Forward’.
India’s first Prime Minister and Gandhi’s great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru had once delivered a historic speech at the same university in 1949.
Gandhi also said that the government’s decision to scrap Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes has led to decline in economic growth. “It cost us two per cent loss in GDP (gross domestic product),” he said.
“Decisions like demonetisation which removed 86 per cent of cash from circulation were done unilaterally, without asking the Chief Economic Advisor or the Cabinet or even Parliament, it (demonetisation) caused tremendous damage,” he said.
Accusing Modi for opening the space for terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress leader said: “When we started, terrorism was rampant in Kashmir. And when we finished by 2013, we basically broke the back of terror, I hugged (then) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and told him it was one of the biggest achievements.”
He also referred to the role of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which is in power with the BJP as its alliance partner in the state, and said, “PDP was instrumental in bringing youngsters in politics, but the day Modi made alliance with PDP, he destroyed them (PDP).”
“So he (Modi) massively opened up space for the terrorists in Kashmir, and you saw the increase in violence,” he added.
He said for nine years he has worked behind the scenes with Manmohan Singh, former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, former union Minister Jairam Ramesh and others on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.
Slamming the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government for the incidents of mob lynching and cow vigilantism that unleashed violence, Gandhi said, “I understand what violence does, violence against anybody is wrong.”
“Hatred, anger and violence can destroy us, the politics of polarisation is dangerous,” he said, adding that liberal journalists are being shot (referring to Kannada journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh’s murder), people are being lynched.
“These incidents are making millions feel that they have no future in their country,” Gandhi added.
He also said that the “idea of non-violence or ‘ahimsa’ is what has allowed this mass of people (India) to rise together and it is the only idea which can take humanity forward”.
“I lost my father, my grandmother to violence, if I don’t understand violence then who will?” he asked referring to the the assassination of his grandmother Indira Gandhi and his father Rajiv Gandhi.
Asked about the dynastic politics, Gandhi said, “Most of the country runs like this. That’s how India works.”
“Dynastic politics is a problem in all political parties. Akhilesh (Yadav son of Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party), (M.K.) Stalin (son of M. Karunanidhi in DMK), Abhishek Bachchan (son of Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan) — are all examples of dynastic legacy, also (Mukesh and Anil) Ambani (son of Dhirubhai Ambani), that’s how the entire country is running.
“Even (Prem Kumar) Dhumal’s son (Anurag Thakur) is a dynast, so don’t go just after me,” Rahul said at the event.
The Congress leader also spoke about the reason for his party’s decline.
“Around 2012, arrogance crept into the Congress party and we stopped having conversations with people,” Gandhi said.
“For rebuilding the party, we need to design a vision that we can use moving forward. Most of what the BJP is doing, is what we once said,” Gandhi said citing the examples of UPA government schemes MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Gurantee Scheme) and GST.
“The core architecture of the BJP-schemes are ours (Congress’),” he said.
The Congress leader also spoke about why it is extremely important to create jobs in India. Taking a jibe at the Modi government as well as at China, he said: “The core constituency of right wing leaders are those who cannot get a job.”
“Unlike China, India has to create jobs in a democratic environment. But India doesn’t want or need China’s coercive model,” he added.
About people’s perception about the Gandhi scion, Rahul said it was what the BJP machinery, involving thousands of workers sitting with their keyboards was churning out.
During a Question and Answer session, when asked why were politicians like Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, named in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots being shielded by the party, Gandhi said: “Violence against anybody is wrong, and I condemn it, I absolutely love the (Sikh) community. If there’s anything I can do to help them get justice I’ll be the first person to do so…”
Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, who was present in the audience during Gandhi’s speech tweeted: “A speech marked by acuity and passion, and a discussion infused with candour and insight.”