Former INC president Rahul Gandhi said on 16 March that Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi used to win elections as well — in a bid to play down the seemingly never-ending streak of electoral victories of the BJP under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi used to have elections. They used to win them. It wasn’t like they weren’t voting but there was no institutional framework to protect that vote,” Gandhi said in an online interaction with Brown University professor Ashutosh Varshney, faculty and students.
“An election is not simply people going and pressing a button on a voting machine. An election is about narrative. An election is about institutions that make sure that the framework in the country is operating properly, an election is about the judiciary being fair and a debate taking place in parliament. So you need those things for a vote to count,” he said.
The awkward comment by Gandhi follows his claim that India was “no longer” a democratic country, a statement he had based on the view of a Sweden-based institute that has downgraded India to an “electoral autocracy” citing a “decline in democratic freedoms” since Prime Minister Modi took office in 2014.
The move by Sweden’s V-Dem Institute followed another global report by the US government-funded NGO Freedom House that downgraded India’s status from “free” to “partly free”. It claimed that “political rights and civil liberties have eroded in India since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014”.
The government has rubbished the Freedom House report and called it “misleading, incorrect and misplaced” while asserting that the country has well established democratic practices.
“The situation in India is worse, we do not need a stamp regarding that,” Gandhi said when asked about the downgrade.
Attempting pointed questions about calls for him to step aside from the INC leadership, Gandhi said he was protecting a certain ideology in the party and would not give up just because someone else did not like it. He said he would continue to fight the BJP’s idealogical mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that he likened to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
He also said he favoured internal democracy in the INC and has promoted many leaders within the party.
“I believe in certain ideas and I defend those ideas. I do not really care what my name is or who my grandfather was. There are certain ideas that I defend and I am going to defend them, whether anybody likes it or not,” he said.
Gandhi said nobody from his family has been the prime minister since 1989, “but there is an obsession that somehow we are in power”.
“I have a role to play in the Congress. I defend a particular ideological colour in the Congress. I am certainly not going to say thank you very much, I will not defend that ideological position in the Congress just because I happen to be so and so”s son. Why should I?” he asked.
“If you had said to me to step aside when I was not facing the RSS, I would be like yes, I could do that. But if you say that there is this monster that is coming at the ideas that I believe in, then I would say no, I would not back down,” he said.
To a question on whether others should become leaders in the INC, Gandhi said, “Absolutely, 100%! I am more than happy to push as many leaders as possible and make as many of them successful and that is my record…that is all I do all day long. I push people and push them forward.”
He said he has been pushing for elections in the party from day one and has been mauled in the press because he wants elections.
“It is interesting to me that when I am pushing for internal democracy, everybody is saying do not do it,” Gandhi said, adding that neither the BJP nor the BSP or any other political party has elections. “But I believe we have a bigger responsibility and we should have internal elections,” he said.
The INC leader also claimed that his mic was “turned off” in parliament once. “My mic was turned off in the parliament and it was not telecast on television,” he said.
“BJP MPs in parliament tell me that they cannot have an open discussion. They say they are told what to say,” he said.
Asked about the implications of China rising to a “global superpower status”, he said, “The rise of Chinese is affecting our politics for some time now… Chinese have a military strategy and there is no counter-strategy to that,” he added.
On whether the situation in India is comparable to the US, Gandhi said, “I am nobody to comment on the US…. But my sense is that the American institutions are showing much more resilience than the Indian ones. I get the sense that the American system is countering this onslaught better than our system.”
“Giving comment on Rahul Gandhi’s opinion is worthless. Comparing India’s democracy with Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein is an insult to the 80 crore voters. Only during the year of emergency, we witnessed a time like that of Gaddafi and Saddam,” Union Minister Prakash Javadekar told ANI, reacting to Gandhi’s comments.