Rahul Gandhi kicked off his first official trip to the U.K. as president of Congress with an attack on the government’s “episodic” foreign policy approach, pointing to its handling of the Doklam border stand-off last year, which he said could have been stopped if the government had been “carefully watching the process.”
“The truth is that the Chinese are still in Doklam today,” he told an audience at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in central London, where he took part in an interactive session on India’s “economic growth and foreign policy in an uncertain world.”
Mr. Gandhi used the session to launch a comprehensive attack on the BJP government’s foreign policy approach, accusing it of lacking a strategic vision when it came to dealing either with close neighbours or countries such as China, the U.S., or Europe.
“You can’t run a foreign policy based on hugs,” he said. The government’s episodic approach by which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had treated Doklam as “an event”, rather than as a process, meant it had failed to stop it happening.
He also called for a re-evaluation of India’s approach to China, as it sought to strike a new balance between China, the West and Africa. “The opportunity is there. There is an Indian way of doing things that is completely different to the Chinese way or the America way…we have our own ideas that are old, tested by non-violence and listening…we specialise in reducing confrontation,” he said.
Mr. Gandhi, on a two-day visit, spoke at two events on India’s role in the wider global environment, as well as concerns around freedom of speech and expression in India today, and the treatment of minorities, farmers and others.
There’s a job crisis in India
The Congress chief slammed the BJP government for its alleged failure to generate employment. “There is a job crisis in my country,” he said at an event in a committee room in the Houses of Parliament, attended by members of the diaspora, the Indian Overseas Congress and several Labour MPs, contrasting the 50,000 jobs per 24 hours created in China, with the 450 jobs every 24 hours in the formal sector created in India.
He was defiant in the face of the BJP criticism of his speech in Hamburg, Germany earlier this week, accusing him of linking joblessness to terrorism.
“What I stated was that there are a number of ideas running around the planet and one has to make sure one is giving a vision to one’s people. If one does not give vision, someone else is going to give that. It’s important that we involve people and carry people and that people feel they are part of nation building.”
When “divisions” were created between people “you are reducing India’s power”, he said. “You carry all those people together you punch at maximum weight.”
Mr. Gandhi attacked alleged attempts to “impose a very rigid, hate-filled angry ideology on India,” and “capture and destroy” its institutions, systematically attack the weak and minorities, pointing to the treatment of minorities, lower caste groups and farmers.
He also repeated his past accusation that the RSS was attempting to capture India’s institutions and “change the nature of India” in the way no party had done before, likening them to the Muslim Brotherhood. “What is under attack is the idea there can be millions of different voices in our country.”
He also attacked the “silencing of the media.” “People are being shot and killed because of what they write…this is not an India most people accept.” He used the two events he addressed to attack the government’s “top down” and centralising approach, insisting that “nothing moves without the Prime Minister’s Office.”
This, he said, included the approach to the MEA, where External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj spent much of her time getting people visas, rather than dealing with priorities including tackling the “monopoly” within the MEA, which left it and India unable to punch above its weight.
He acknowledged the difficulty India confronted when it came to Pakistan. “Pakistan is a number of institutions. Which institution do you talk to? Some are hostile to India. Some are attacking India. We are not going to talk to them.” It would be impossible to “pull out a solution” while Pakistan remained unstable and with competing voices. Until that time the most India could do was make sure “they can’t do damage.”
Asked about the party’s position on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, he said that while he believed anything done wrong during that period should be punished, he disagreed with the suggestion that Congress had been involved.
The visit to Germany and the U.K. follows a series of international trips by the Congress leader including to Malaysia and Singapore, as part of efforts to reach out to the diaspora, and give momentum to the work of the Indian Oversees Congress abroad, ahead of the 2019 election.