BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA: Kicking off his two-week US tour with an address to students at University of California’s Berkeley, Rahul Gandhi indicated today that he is open to being the Congress’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2019 national election.
Asked by the moderator if he was ready to be the prime ministerial candidate of the Congress party, Mr Gandhi said, “I am absolutely ready to do that….We have an organisational party that decides that and that process is currently ongoing…That decision is something the Congress party should make.”
Mr. Gandhi, whose party slid to its lowest tally ever in Parliament in the last election, admitted that a “certain arrogance” has crept into the Congress and took responsibility for a couple of years of lost opportunities from 2012.
On the accusation that he is a dynast, the Gandhi scion chose humour in his response to an amused audience, “Mr Akhilesh Yadav is a dynast, Mr Stalin is a dynast, even Abhishek Bachchan is a dynast. The Ambani kids are also running the company, that is just the way India runs. The real question is if that person is a capable, sensitive person,” Mr Gandhi said.
In a sharp attack, he accused the ruling BJP of festering “hatred, anger, violence and politics of polarisation,” talking about the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru and about mobs lynching people on beef suspicions. “It makes millions feel they have no future in their own country, isolates people and converts them to radicalization,” the Congress leader said.
He also attacked the government over last year’s notes ban, saying demonetisation had taken away 2% from the growth of the Indian economy. The decline, Mr Gandhi alleged, has caused damage to agriculture and deep distress among farmers.
Mr Gandhi’s criticism of Prime Minister Modi was more subtle than direct. He admitted the Prime Minister was a better communicator than him and praised his Make In India and Swachh Bharat initiatives. But he differed with his approach to foreign policy, saying he would have made sure that not only did India have a solid relationship with the United States, but also that did not isolate others “such as Russia, Iran and our neighbouring countries.”
He alleged that PM Modi controls an online machine of over a thousand people whose very purpose is to destroy Rahul Gandhi’s credibility, calling him “stupid and incompetent”.
In 1949, Rahul Gandhi’s great grandfather Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had spoken at the University. He was then Prime Minister of India.
Mr Gandhi arrived in San Fransisco yesterday and will, during his two-week US tour, meet Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and thought leaders to develop a better path forward for the Congress party. A highlight will be an event in New York City’s Marriot Hotel with a capacity of 1,900 people, where he address overseas Indians.
From San Francisco, Mr Gandhi will travel to Los Angeles. He is likely to visit Aspen Institute. The Congress vice president will also travel to Washington DC and Princeton University before his final address in New York.