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“Dissent’s Still Alive in India, Thank God” : Rahul G

 

 

Rahul Gandhi gratuitously broke the cardinal rule of cross-examination and became easy meat on social media and some television screens. But Rahul is not a trial lawyer. He was not in a courtroom. Neither was he questioning hostile witnesses. The Congress leader was engaged in what he described as a “conversation” with the final-year undergraduate and post-graduate students of Bangalore’s Mount Carmel College, an institution established in 1948 for higher education for girls.

Rahul: What is India going to do in the next 10 years after 2019? Because, frankly, even though the BJP has come to power, I don’t see a strategy, I don’t see a clear direction. I see a lot of talk. I hear talk about ‘clean your country’…. I mean, are we serious? (Sounds of ferment in audience). Clean your country is a strategic national government programme! Well, it’s not working, is it?

Loud response: It is… Yessss…

Rahul: I don’t see it working. You see it working? Okay, I don’t see Swachh Bharat working very well (shrugs, gestures with his hands in resignation). Huh! What?

Voice from near the dais: Well, I think that they are agreeing that it is working.

Rahul: You think it’s working?

Loud chorus: Yesss…. Nooo…

Same voice from near the dais: The house is divided (laughs)

Rahul: (Smiles) Yes, it’s working? Okay. (Turning to the side from where the “Noes” came). No?

Rahul: (Smiles and swallows) Let’s ask another question. Do you think Make in India is working?

Loud response: Yesss…

Rahul:  purchase at a low figure pills online (Thrusts his neck forward, looks surprised) You think so?

Lone voice: No.

Rahul: You think, you think youngsters in India are getting jobs?

Loud response: Nooo….

add in cart at a low figure pills no rx – http://manasresort.in/add-in-cart-at-a-low-figure-pills-no-rx/ Rahul: So, Swachh Bharat isn’t working, Make in India isn’t working, Connect India isn’t working. So, I don’t…. Anyway.

The mood among the students appeared collegial, not confrontational.

However, amid the blizzard of “Pappu” (Rahul is called so by many trolls) jokes, what was lost was an unusual message the T-shirt-and-jeans-clad politician had delivered in his opening remarks.

“My job is to come to you and to listen to you…. And you to tell me, ‘we don’t agree with you, Mr Gandhi. You are wrong over here’. And for me to go back and say, ‘actually, that’s interesting. I was wrong. I need to correct that’. That’s the type of politics that I am for,” Rahul had told the students.

Such an open invitation from a politician for dissent is rare, if not endangered, in the country – as evidenced by the backlash against Aamir Khan in the past two days for articulating his concerns over intolerance.

If Rahul raised the bar, the students rose to the occasion by speaking their mind in a manner that ensured their voice was heard throughout the country.

In spite of the wise-cracks and lampooning, what unfolded in Bangalore was the celebration of dissent by young and bright minds at an institution whose alumni include former diplomat Nirupama Rao, actress Deepika Padukone and badminton player Aparna Popat. (Rahul mentioned three “excellent” alumni he knows: Congress leader Margaret Alva, industrialist Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Rao.)

On the flipside, some political observers, who did not wish to be named, felt that Rahul again displayed his immaturity by choosing the wrong audience to ask the wrong questions.

The suggestion was that the Clean India and Make in India campaigns – and by extension their biggest mascot Prime Minister Narendra Modi – enjoy popularity and acceptance among “urban youths” and Rahul should have assessed his target audience better.

But a counter-argument by some Congress leaders was that the frank opinion of the students itself made it clear that it was not a “hired” or “fixed” audience but an independent group of students with whom Rahul was willing to engage on their own terms.

Rahul did face some uncomfortable questions in a session that followed his opening remarks. Some students later said that most of the nine questions were submitted in advance, suggesting Rahul had time to prepare the answers.

The Congress spokesperson in Karnataka, Brijesh Kalappa, denied that questions were taken in advance. Congress sources in Delhi said they would not be surprised if some aides, not the formal party apparatus, had asked for questions in advance. But Rahul did tell the audience at the end of the opening remarks: “…Please feel free to ask me whatever questions you like and I will happily answer them.”

It was during the question-and-answer session that Rahul waded into Clean India and Make in India.

Amina Jagirdar, a final-year BA student, had pointed out that many youths were moving to parties like the BJP and the AAP and asked what initiatives the Congress had taken to attract the young. While seeking to differentiate between the Congress and the BJP, Rahul referred to the pet themes of the Prime Minister.

One of the questions -asked by Deeksha M. Rao, a final-year BSc student – was on disruptions of Parliament, which begins the winter session tomorrow.

Deeksha asked: “We all agree that for a healthy democracy, a constructive Opposition is needed. For the past one-and-a-half years, the Opposition has not only stalled Parliament but derailed the legislative process. So, is the main role of the Opposition merely to oppose?”

Rahul replied: “No. The main role of an Opposition is to have a conversation in Parliament. Our problem is that the BJP does not have a conversation. I’ve seen in Parliament a number of times when our speakers are speaking their mikes are switched off. And they stand there silent. Democracy is about conversation. It’s very important that conversation is allowed.”

When he ended the answer by saying “democracy is about discussion”, applause broke out.

A googly was bowled by Shafa Qausar, a final-year BA student.

Shafa asked: “Humongous corruption allegations were seen as the main reason for the disastrous Congress performance in the 2014 elections. But your recent tie-up with the RJD shows your willingness to compromise to defeat the BJP instead of trying to restore the country’s faith in your system. So what is your stand on corruption?”

Rahul replied: “In Bihar, it is generally accepted that Nitish Kumar is an honest leader. We support Nitish Kumar. Lalu Yadavji is actually not in the government, his sons who are in the government have yesterday made a statement on zero-tolerance for corruption.”

Then Rahul beat about the bush for some time. Then he came to the point: “Our alliance in Bihar is with Mr Nitish Kumar who has a decent record on corruption. Lalu Yadavji is also part of our alliance. Our thinking on Bihar was it was very important that the BJP needs to be stopped in Bihar.”

Seated in the auditorium since 12 noon for the arrival of Rahul at1.30pm for the outreach programme, the students were treated to a screening of the Bollywood blockbuster Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Rahul arrived around 1.40pm, well before the movie ended, to loud cheers.

Reporters were not allowed beyond the main gate (the description of the interaction is from television footage).

Two final-year students later told The Telegraph that some of them where trying to say “Swachh Bharat is not working in Karnataka”, a Congress-ruled state.

While leaving, Rahul chose to see a half-full glass. He told reporters waiting outside that the nature of the response was not clear.

“Actually it was not clear. On Swachh Bharat, half the room said nothing had happened and some said something had happened. On Make in India, I think more people said not much had happened, some said things have happened.”

Later, BJP spokesperson Sidharth Nath Singh said in New Delhi: “Today’s student interaction of Rahul Gandhi must have been disheartening for the Congress but certainly heartening for the BJP.

 

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