Singapore: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday visited the iconic INA memorial in Singapore and paid homage to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, besides holding talks with senior ministers including Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
He began the Singapore leg of his visit with an address to Indian entrepreneurs. He also addressed the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. He is scheduled to visit Malaysia too.
Talking about Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy at Lee Kuan Yew School, Rahul said, "To meet Mahatma Gandhi's expectations is difficult since he was known to be a hard taskmaster. You can always do better. I think often people take Gandhi ji literally. When he spoke about village economy, he was talking about Swaraj, which is all about decentralising power to the last Indian, and building an India where everybody feels they have space, a harmonious India."
He added, "We have done a pretty decent job. The first big step was 'One Person, One Vote', green revolution, self-sufficiency in food, the computer revolution, telecom revolution, the liberalisation of the Indian economy - so we've been pretty successful. We are one of the fastest growing economies. And all this, given the fact that we are not a small country, I would say it's been a decent show."
In a veiled attack at the Modi government, Rahul said, "Where we are running into trouble now is in the levels of violence, the levels of anger that you are seeing in India. This is central. The idea of India that Gandhi ji envisioned was an India where everybody felt they had a home, everybody felt comfortable, regardless of religion, community or state. That idea is now being challenged."
Answering a question on some of the key achievements of India since Independence, the Congress president said, "Whenever you are talking about India, you are talking about over a billion people. We have completely transformed over a billion people economically. Our GDP, when we started versus our GDP now, you can't even compare it. One of the big achievements, when we were in power, was increasing the school enrollment to 90%. It's not spoken of but it is a revolution. When we started, pretty much everybody said we are going to fail. World development community said it is impossible to bring so many people together. We disapproved the idea that you cannot take a billion people together and march along on a democratic path. That makes me very proud."
On the issue of 'revolt' by Supreme Court against the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, he said, "Normally in India, the people go to the judges for justice. For the first time in my life, I saw four Supreme Court judges actually go to the people for justice. They went to the press and said that they need the people to hear their voice as there is something that is fundamentally wrong. There is a challenge to the institutional structure of our country. When you are moving so many people, there are aspirations and also fear. You can use that positively, or you can make them hate other people. I am proud to say that our vision is to bring people together. That vision has served the country."
"The foundation of women's empowerment in politics was laid with the Panchayati Raj. We have tried to pass the Women's Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha numerous times. However, it was opposed by other parties. I think not having women play their due role in politics is a tragedy," Rahul said when asked about the contentious issue.
Taking on the BJP-led NDA government over job creation he said, "From the 1990s to today, you can see a tremendous increase in growth, but the job numbers are not there. That's a fact. Our record in the UPA was better than the BJP's, but it was not exceptional. The BJP's record is particularly bad. In fact, you have the highest levels of unemployment in India today, in the last 8 years. There is a disconnect between our skill system, finances, and technology. If we can take our skills, and connect them to finance, and to technology, you will get a complete transformation of India's manufacturing. It will look very different from China. It will be led by small and medium businesses, and entrepreneurs. But it will be transformational."
On competing with China, the Congress chief said, "I don't buy the idea that India can't challenge and compete with China in manufacturing. But what I will say is India cannot compete with China in terms of 50,000-100,000-men factories. Some of this is already happening in India. If you look at a Maruti, that is exactly what has happened. The Indian auto industry, the auto components industry, that's a success story. I can give you more success stories - the Amul movement, the sugar cooperatives in Maharashtra - these are all success stories. Where we can really get aggressive is now in the manufacturing space because the technology piece is actually an enabler. It wasn't an enabler 20 years ago."
Talking about how sees India in a collaborative partnership with ASEAN and China, he said, "What the Chinese have achieved is impressive. It is a manifestation of their culture and their way of doing things. I am no one to comment on how they choose to do things. I respect that. India has a completely different culture and society. We don't want to replicate China. We are different. Having said that, India has to have a peaceful, cooperative relationship with the Chinese. India has a strategic relationship with the US, but our country is big enough to have good relationships with all the countries. In an unconnected world, you can see Europe, America, and Japan have power. In a connected world, it is problematic to say that. In the new paradigm, the rules are going to be different. Cooperation is very important in the new paradigm. A hot war in the new paradigm is going to be suicidal for all."
On the issue of Kashmir, Rahul's take was, "One complaint I have against the BJP's policy is that it is episodic rather than strategic. When UPA came to power in 2004, we were handed a J&K that was burning, people dying, violence and terrorism. We made a plan and worked on it for 9 years, and the plan was to build bridges between people. We held local body elections in J&K where there were thousands of people’s representatives, we worked on connecting people to the banking sector, we brought businesses to J&K. We destroyed the terrorist movement in J&K - not by big talk, by fancy speeches. Hundreds of people were working quietly behind the scenes were responsible for this success. In 2014, when I went to J&K, I felt like crying. I saw what a bad political decision can do to years and years of work. You engage with people, you bring people in, you work with people, you trust people. It works. I have seen it. It is very easy to pretend that you will have simple solutions. There are no simple solutions. You can divide people and play politics, but how is dividing communities going to give them jobs?"
Slamming the RSS he said, "We have been fighting the BJP and RSS since the beginning. An extremely nasty form of politics is currently taking root in India. We will fight this nasty form of politics and we will defeat the BJP in the next election. We do not like an India where people are persecuted for what they eat, drink, wear, or think. Very soon you will see an India where everybody is loved, respected and taken along."