Rahul Gandhi US visit: India and US need to build shared vision, Congress leader tells Stanford audience

Ritu Jha-

The United States and India need to work towards a vision, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said during a conversation themed on ‘The New Global Equilibrium’ hosted by the Center on Democracy, Development & the Rule of Law, Stanford University at CEMEX Auditorium on May 31.

Gandhi is in the US on a week-long tour during which he is scheduled to meet the Indian diaspora, academics, students, entrepreneurs and think tanks. He landed in San Francisco on May 30, and will visit Washington, DC and New York as well. His visit concludes on June 4.

Rahul Gandhi and moderator Dinsha Mistree at Stanford University

The session was moderated by CDDRL-affiliated scholar Dinsha Mistree (see left).

Gandhi said, “We have a population that is more than ready to work very hard. You have the technology, you have Silicon Valley. These two things need to be brought together, but it needs a vision. It needs to spark action. US and India need to work together towards this vision.”

He added, “If you look at India as a manufacturing hub, it is dropping. Unemployment is rising. These are directly connected. It’s a hard thing to do. It’s much harder for the West to do it than for us. But, it needs to be done.”

When asked about solutions, he said, “It also has a lot to do with finance and banking. In India, the banking system is centralized. The top 15-20% people have full access to the banking system. Whereas millions of businesses, people who want to set up production units, don’t. I don’t think India has a choice with regard to production, because we are transitioning from a rural to an urban economy. We’ve got a large number of people who are connected to the land. And they tend to stay with the land. Now these people are in the cities. The only way to give them a livelihood is manufacturing. I don’t think India can just be a services-oriented country. The scale of India does not allow that.”

On unemployment, he said, “We have millions and millions who need employment. You just can’t spin off manufacturing jobs into services. The idea that we can just ignore manufacturing and we run a services-based economy will not work.”

Gandhi said also shared why he differs from BJP’s push for a top-down centralized system.

“I see India as a multicultural, multi-religion, multi- language nation. I see it as a decentralized system. I don’t think one state should impose itself on another. I don’t think one language should be imposed on the people of India. There are completely different religions in India. I don’t believe the BJP’s vision of India can lead to production because you need to decentralize power in India to produce. You cannot do it from Delhi.”

Pointing to Southern Indian states, Gandhi said, “Our southern states have different cultures, languages, and histories. You have to make them feel comfortable. You can’t let them feel that their language is threatened, their culture is threatened. If you give an impression that their language is threatened, culture is threatened, it just won’t work.”

Students at Stanford University take selfies with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi

A student of engineering asked Gandhi: “Over the last few years, your international presence has skyrocketed. You’ve spoken at universities and clubs across the US, UK. You’re spending time with us to make Stanford feel special, but in India we hardly ever see the opposition seeking international support, like the foreign ministry.”

Gandhi replied, “I’m not seeking support from anybody. I’m very clear that our fight is our fight. But there is a group of students from India here. I want to have a relationship with them and I’ll talk with them. I think it’s my right to do it. I mean, I don’t understand why the Prime Minister doesn’t come here and do it. Prime Minister, you’re welcome at Stanford at any time, and you’re welcome to talk to the party. Come and have a chat with me. Answer some hard questions.”

He added, “It’s important for political people to put themselves in a tough situation. It’s very valuable. It makes us refine our thoughts. It makes us think about things. And you get the odd questions that you can’t answer. We are all humans, we’re not gods here. I’m more than happy to have the occasional slip up. Because I get to understand what you’re thinking. I understand what you’re working on. So for me, it’s a relationship.”

A bioengineering student asked: “Your party’s been in opposition for nine years. Not surprisingly, you’ve made a number of complaints about how the opposition is excluded from decision-making. If Congress comes back to power, what protections and rights do you think you will extend to the opposition?”

Gandhi said the record of the Congress-led UPA government was clear. “We didn’t do any of this stuff. We were not putting cases on the opposition. It’s just not something we would do. This is a new style of politics that is coming to India. And we certainly don’t believe in it. There are institutionalized protections. So yes, we will strengthen those protections. It would be strengthening the institutional framework. But what is going on back home, it’s not normal. It’s not something that has been done, even by the BJP, before.”

When a student of computer science asked whether he supports India’s neutral stance on the Russian-Ukraine war, Gandhi replied: “We have a relationship with Russia and we have certain dependencies. We have to also look out for our interests. India is a big country. We’ll have relationships with several other countries. It’s not so small that it can just say okay, we’re just going to have relationships with you and nobody else. So, we will always have these types of relationships. We will have better relationships with some people. Evolving relationships with other people. So, that balance is there. But to say that, okay, India will not have a relationship with this set of people, it’s difficult.”

Harsha Vardhan, an entrepreneur from Folsom, California said after the event that he would want Rahul Gandhi to be India’s prime minister. “He is educated and it’s a no-brainer. Gandhi mentioned his stand on Ukraine on Russia would be neutral, and the relationship between US and India should manifest not just in terms of trade but from people to people.”

Vish Mishra, a venture capitalist, told indica, “I did not hear from Rahul Gandhi about India’s impressive rise. I did not understand what they (the opposition) really stand for. What will they do differently to continue India’s rise? The world recognizes India’s rise and what they will do to continue the momentum.” He said he felt Gandhi’s responses were shallow. “He cannot lead,” Mishra said. “I am not being critical, but objective.”

Vijay Pareek, a software engineer, told indica,” I have seen many politicians speak, and wanted to hear his political point of view so thought to come, and Gandhi talked about China occupying Indian territory. I don’t think we have lost any territory to China.”

Siddharth Manu, a software engineer who feels very much connected to Indian politics and was excited to attend this event, told indica, “I agree with his vision of India evolving as a manufacturing hub, and that Modi is supporting manufacturing but he is pro-Adani and Ambani and a few others but according to Rahul India needs small and medium business and banking should reach more villages.”

“I think he [Rahul] should be more aggressive and take a stronger stand, and India should play a strategic role and bring peace between Russia and Ukraine. I will vote for him,” Manu told indica. “This guy is a good listener not a one-way conversationalist like Modi. Rahul is like Obama. He will be a good PM like Obama was a good president.”

Leon De Souza, a graduate student at Stanford Univerity, said: “The three aspects that he said are changing right now are energy, mobility, and technology. I agree with him and I do think there should be a good opportunity to create in India a sustainable, environment-friendly manufacturing system while being cost-effective.”

Jatin Aggarwal, another Stanford University graduate student, said he wanted to know how Rahul Gandhi can improve the educational institutions in India.

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