Bengaluru: "Sharad Pawar once told me that he has spent his whole life trying to disturb the Congress, but today Congress remains the only party which can take on the RSS/BJP," remarked Rahul Gandhi, while inaugurating the Samruddha Bharat Foundation (SBF) at the Taj West End in Bengaluru on Tuesday.
"This is no longer a tactical political fight. It's an ideological fight for the soul of India. While there are questions in my mind about what will the government look like with so many different partners, I am very confident that Narendra Modi won't be the prime minister again. I can see it in his face," the Congress president said.
Answering a question on how the Congress was going to re-establish itself in the face of the near wipe out it is currently facing, he said he wasn't worried as the entire Opposition was united under the same goal – to rid India of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Conceived as an independent platform for liberal, secular and progressive forces in the country, the SBF has been established as a follow up to the Quest of Equity International Conference that was held in the city last year, which reportedly attracted the participation of 28,000 people including academics, professionals, and policymakers.
A video was played at the start which highlighted the rise of right-wing propagated violence from the past years, in which the viewers were urged to unite against the divisive forces that are denying certain sections of the population their due rights on the basis of birth.
The by-invitation-only event was attended by eminent professionals and public figures from the city, including lawyers, architects, doctors, business leaders, and policymakers. Gandhi engaged in an hour-long interaction with those present, during which time he answered several questions from select audience members on the current political situation, unemployment, safeguarding national institutions.
Gandhi accepted the congratulations on the Congress manifesto which he said reflects the intelligence of the people of Karnataka as it was prepared in consultation with the various stakeholders. On how he will support the women's empowerment agenda, Gandhi said, "I have some ideas that the men won't like; in fact, the senior members of my party may also not like it. But I want to see more women chief ministers in the next 10 years. This will take time and a large pool of talent to develop from. I am also not very happy with the number of tickets we have given women this time. While it's still three times more than the BJP, it's not enough."
Walking among the audience and imploring them to not call him 'sir' and even skip the 'ji', Gandhi said there was a fundamental difference in the way in which his party and the BJP/RSS viewed elections. "We know we can't win political power all the time, so we don't have an existential crisis when we lose elections. But they don't see elections the way we see them. We see them as a way of carrying democracy forward, they want to capture institutional power. That's what is going on when you hear Supreme Court judges coming out to say something is wrong... when the name of the Planning Commission is changed, demonetisation, JNU... One more cycle like this, we won't need democracy. They'd close the doors from the other side."
He said, there are two ways to run a government – memory or imagination, past or future. "The discussion now is only about the past. There are no conversations about the future. The design is to allow certain small groups of people capture a tremendous amount of wealth, while you and I are fighting about things that happened 300 years ago. It's a way to distract people."
Touching on Dalit and minority issues, he pointed out that large masses of people are becoming empowered in the country which is a disturbing thought for those who have always had power. Even if the last person in the country stopped standing up for the marginalised, I will not sit down, he said.
He also took questions on the non-performing assets in national banks linked to large industries, the appropriation of national leaders by BJP/RSS who simultaneously destroy their very legacies, and the siloed working of universities which limited their potential.
Pushparaj Deshpande, director of the SBF, in his thank you address said that we can actualise Samruddha Bharat only if it was 'Sabka Bharat'. "For the past few weeks we have been asked, do we want to be a think tank? Do we want to be an umbrella platform for activists, policymakers, etc or do we want to be a grassroots movement? The answer is we don't know yet. We are taking a leap of faith by going where no one has gone before. All we know is that it should be everything to further liberal and secular values in India," he said.
Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the launch, senior lawyer Shyam Sundar, who was among the invitees, said that it was a great opportunity to interact with Gandhi and understand his point of view on the issues that were important to him. When asked how he saw himself contributing to the efforts of the foundation, he said people like those present here had to come together to take the first steps.
The author is a Bengaluru-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
Updated Date: May 08, 2018 17:34 PM