“The Bharatiya Janata Party wants India to be silent,” argued Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during an interaction with the Indian Journalists’ Association (IJA) in London. Gandhi was asked to comment on the recent BBC documentary titled India: The Modi Question, which was controversially banned in India using ‘emergency’ provisions.
The talk ‘Politics and the Publics: From perception to performance’ was Gandhi’s first interaction with the press in the UK where he answered questions on the Bharat Jodo Yatra, India’s foreign policy on China and Russia, crony capitalism and the 2024 General Elections.
The discussion was hosted by the president of the IJA, Danish Khan. The audience that largely comprised journalists from India and the UK were keen to hear Gandhi’s views on the controversy surrounding the documentary and the subsequent raids on the BBC’s offices in New Delhi.
“There is suppression of voice everywhere in India, an example is the BBC documentary,” said Gandhi highlighting that this is only making news in the UK now because the BBC has only experienced this suppression now, but told the audience that such suppression on media has been going on in India for the past nine years. “Journalists (in India) are intimidated, they are attacked, they are threatened. Journalists who toe the line of the government are rewarded.”
One critical view in India alleged the documentary was a “colonial hangover” that allowed Britain to continue to meddle in India’s affairs. “Every place where there is an opposition there is an excuse,” he said, adding that if the BBC stops reporting against the government, the cases against it will disappear.
Gandhi echoed his lecture given at the University of Cambridge, where he reiterated that the institutions in India are at a threat and the minorities are suffering.
When it was pointed out that such comments on international trips lead to a furore of accusations that he is “defaming India” on foreign soil, Gandhi challenged the speeches made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his foreign trips that included “nothing happened in India in 60 years” and “unlimited corruption in India”, which Gandhi said insulted all those who worked hard to make India successful.
“So, the person who defames India when he goes abroad is the Prime Minister of India.”
Gandhi explicitly said, “I have never defamed my country and I will never do it.” He added that the BJP likes to “twist” what he says.
The opposition is not fighting a political party
Gandhi dismissed concerns that the opposition is weak and has cracks within it. “The basic idea that the RSS and the BJP need to be fought and defeated is deeply entrenched in the minds of the opposition,” he said, admitting that there are tactical issues that require some discussion but the “opposition is very much capable of resolving these issues” and there are “conversations going on”.
However, unlike most countries, he said that the opposition in India is no longer fighting a political party. “We are fighting the institutional structures of India. We are fighting the BJP and the RSS which have captured almost all of India’s institutions. The idea of a level playing field doesn’t exist.”
The battle of narratives, military threat, and crony capitalism
Interestingly, Gandhi refused to accept that the Congress is losing the battle of the narratives, insisting that the Bharat Jodo Yatra has turned the tables and the Congress is now leading the narrative. “We did a yatra across the country which totally dominated the narratives in the last four months,” he said. “It was transformational, and the national press was forced to cover it.”
He also accused the BJP of “distracting” the media away from the yatra but said it was nevertheless reported by the press. “So the idea that the Congress is losing social media is a figment of the imagination.”
Separately, he also said, “The Chinese have entered our territory, killed our soldiers, and the prime minister has denied it.”
He mentioned a conversation he had with the foreign minister that convinced him that the government is not understanding the “actual threat from China” and “the prime minister simply stating that nobody has entered our territory sends the message to China that you can do it again”.
A constant motif throughout the conversation was “Adani” and crony capitalism. “Mr. Adani has gone from the 609th richest man to the second richest man in the past three years. He has a very good relationship with the prime minister.”
When asked about the 5 million tonnes of lithium reserves found in Kashmir and the announcement of an auction for it, he was quick to point to Adani. “I can tell you Mr. Adani seems to win every auction he takes part in. He doesn’t need any experience to enter businesses. So, I can predict that Mr. Adani will get that lithium as well.”
Gandhi spent the first few days of his week-long UK trip at the University of Cambridge as a visiting fellow at the Judge Business school. He will be attending a diaspora event on Sunday and a meet in the parliament followed by a talk at Chatham House on Monday.
Note: The event was an interaction, hosted by the president of IJA, Danish Khan, whom the author is related to.