Indian democracy was under threat and several Opposition leaders, including himself, were being snooped upon by using Israeli spyware Pegasus, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi told a group of students at Cambridge University.
Mr. Gandhi had delivered the lecture on February 28 but was shared on Twitter by Congress leader Sam Pitroda on Friday.
With the BJP accusing Mr. Gandhi of ‘maligning India on foreign soil’, the Congress hit back by stating that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had raked up domestic politics on foreign soil and had even made “fun of the country by saying people were ashamed of being born as Indians”.
During his lecture on “Learning to Listen in the 21st Century”, Mr. Gandhi had said, “Indian democracy is under pressure and under attack. The institutional framework which is required for a democracy... Parliament, free press, the judiciary, just the idea of mobilisation _ these are all getting constrained. We are facing an attack on the basic structure of democracy”.
The Congress leader said that India was described as a Union of States in the Constitution and that Union required negotiation and conversation. “It is that negotiation that is under attack and threat...there is also attack on minorities and press. A large number of political leaders have Pegasus on their phones. I myself had Pegasus on my phone. I have been called by intelligence officers who say please be careful of what you say on the phone as we are recording the stuff,” he claimed.
The former Congress president cited key aspects of the alleged assault on democracy: capture and control of media and judiciary, surveillance and intimidation, coercion by federal law enforcement agencies, attacks on tribals, Dalits and minorities and shutting down of dissent.
“I have got a number of criminal liable cases registered against me for the things which shouldn’t be under criminal cases. As the Opposition, it is very difficult to communicate with people when you have this type of an assault on media and on the democratic architecture. So, we decided to go back to Indian history and culture,” Mr. Gandhi said, explaining the motivation behind his 4,081 km-long Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Recalling the Kashmir leg of the yatra, Mr. Gandhi shared an experience during which a boy came up to him and told him that militants were looking at him. “They [the militants] had no power to do anything as I had come there with no violence in me at all,” he said.
The Congress leader’s presentation also focussed on the themes of “Two divergent perspectives of the U.S. and China since World War II” and the “Imperative for a Global Conversation”.
Responding to BJP’s allegations of maligning India, Congress spokesperson and social media head Supriya Shrinate said the Prime Minister had ridiculed the Opposition and referred to the India’s domestic politics in places like Shanghai, California, Toronto, Seoul and Abu Dhabi.
“If we start recalling those statement of the Prime Minister against the Opposition, the BJP won’t have a place to hide. If they listen to Rahul Gandhi ji hour-long speech, they will understand that he spoke about democracy….When he is saying that India is an asset on the world stage of democracy, he is talking about your and our democracy. He is talking about India emerging as a bid power between the two super-powers of America and China,” Ms. Shrinate said in defence of the former Congress chief.
Mr. Gandhi is on a week-long tour of the U.K. and is scheduled to hold some closed-door sessions on Big Data and Democracy and India-China relations at Cambridge University. He is also expected to interact with representatives of the U.K. chapter of the Indian Overseas Congress and address an “Indian Diaspora Conference” planned over the weekend in London.