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Rahul Gandhi says "absolutely ready" to be Congress' PM candidate in 2019

Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi addressing students of the University of California, Berkeley in the United States on September 11, 2017.
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi addressing students of the University of California, Berkeley in the United States on September 11, 2017.
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi said on Monday that he was "absolutely ready" to be the party's Prime Ministerial candidate in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections but made it clear that it was a decision that the party had to take and not him.
 
"I am absolutely ready to do that," he said in response to a question after addressing students of the University of California, Berkeley in the United States on "Reflections: India at 70".
 
This was the first time that Mr. Gandhi, who is widely tipped to succeed his mother Sonia Gandhi as the Congress President, has publicly affirmed his readiness to be his party's nominee for the top post.
 
"We have an organisational election process that decides that. And that process is currently ongoing. So we have an internal system where we elect certain delegates who make that decision. So for me to say that that decision is mine that wouldn't be very fair. That's a decision that the Congress Party has to make and that's a process that's currently going on right now," he said.
 
Both during his address and the  question-answer session that followed, Mr. Gandhi hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government for its policies and decisions, including on issues such as Jammu and Kashmir, demonetisation, jobs for the youth and uplift of the poorer and vulnerable sections.
 
He was asked about "dynasty politics" in the Congress and he pointed that it was a problem with all political parties and that it was "most of the country runs like". He cited the examples of the Samajwadi Party and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, DMK leader M K Stalin, industrialists such as Mukesh Ambani and his children and Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan to make his point.
 
On the Kashmir issue, he alleged that the Modi government had, by forging an alliance with the People's Democratic Party (PDP) of Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, opened up the space for the return of terrorism to the state.
 
Mr. Gandhi said that, in 2004, when the Congress-led UPA government began its first term, terrorism was rampant in Jammu and Kashmir but by 2013 it had been controlled.
 
"When we finished by 2013, we basically broke the back of terror. I hugged (then) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and told him it was one of his biggest achievements," he said.
 
“For nine years I worked behind the scenes with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, Jairam Ramesh and others on Jammu and Kashmir," he said.
 
He said the PDP was the instrument that brought Kashmiri youngsters into the political process. "The day Mr. Modi made an alliance between the BJP and the PDP, he destroyed the PDP as an instrument that could bring youngsters into the political system," he said.
 
"Today, in Jammu and Kashmir, the space has been opened for not only Pakistan but other players in the region and it is going to impose a massive strategic cost on India," he said.
 
"What amazed me was that nine years of work was destroyed in 30 days. It blew my mind. I was so sad," he said.
 
Among other issues, Mr. Gandhi spoke about how he was trying to ensure the older and younger leaders in the Congress worked together.
 
He also said that the Congress' policies and programmes were evolved through a bottom-up approach and not through a top-down vision. He said many of the UPA government's successful programmes, including the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, had evolved in this manner.
 
He said the party was not really bothered about being leftist or rightist in its approach but was only interested in doing what was right for the people and the country.
 
Mr. Gandhi said this approach had helped the country achieve its highest economic growth rate during the UPA's ten years in office. He said NREGA had transformed rural India and the Right to Information had proved to be an extremely powerful programme.
 
Asked about his image of being a "reluctant politician" and somebody who was not easily accessible, he said there was a "BJP machine", "about 1000 guys sitting on computers", who spread such reports about him every day.
 
"They basically tell you about me. They tell you that I am reluctant. They tell you that I am stupid. They tell you all these things. You have seen me now. You guys gotta make up your mind. You have to figure that out," he said.
 
"The operation is basically run by the gentleman who is running our country," he added.
 
 
BJP machine of 1000 people spreading stories about me: Rahul Gandhi
Asked how he planned to counter such perceptions, he said he planned to have more such conversations so that the people got a sense of what he was like. "That is the best way," he felt.
 
To a question about administrative reforms, Mr. Gandhi said even more important was political reform, and something that he determined to push ahead with if his party is voted to power.
 
He said one of the main problems in the country was that members of Parliament and the State Legislatures were not empowered enough to carry out their basic function -- lawmaking. He said they ended up worrying about issues like roads and such facilities in their constituencies when they should be actually focused on making laws. This function was now being performed by a small group of Ministers and people around them, he said.
 
Mr. Gandhi acknowledged that Mr. Modi was a very good communicator, "probably much better than me" and that he liked the concept of Make in India and Swachh Bharat. But he felt small and medium businesses needed to be given more space so that they can grow into global companies.
 
He also felt Mr. Modi does not converse with the people he works with, even members of Parliament from his own party or the Opposition.
 
He also listed the failures of the government on the foreign policy front, especially in the neighbourhood and in ties with countries such as Russia and Iran.
 
"Whereas, I completely agree with their positioning as far as the US is concerned. I think they are making India vulnerable because if you look at Nepal, the Chinese are in there..Burma, the Chinese are there..Sri Lanka, the Chinese are there and in Maldives too.
 
"In a lot of these places, these are tactical mistakes. Nepal was a tactical mistake.you know the blockade..you basically lost Nepal because you made a tactical mistake," he said.
 
"My agreement in the basic direction..I agree..friendship with US, close bond with US, but don't isolate India because it is dangerous," he said.
 
Mr. Gandhi recalled that his great-grandfather, India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, had addressed the university way back in 1949.
 
He began by speaking about the successes of India over the past 70 years, as a democracy and in the area of economic development.
 
He said India's achievements had been significant -- increasing literacy, expanding healthcare and raising life expectancy, all within a generation. 
 
"Achieving self-sufficiency in food grains, averting famine, pushing huge advantage in science and technology, even being a front-runner in the field of computer technology," he said.
 
Mr. Gandhi said India had lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty over the decdes.
 
"For the first time in our history, India, if it is steered correctly and faithfully, has the opportunity to wipe out poverty. If India is able to lift another 350 million people out of poverty by 2030, it would be an achievement of which the human race can be proud of. Doing this would require us to grow by more than over 8 percent over the next 13 years. India has done it before and can do it again. But it is imperative that India sustain a high growth rate for an uninterrupted period of 10-15 years in order to do so," he said.
 
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He said the central challenge for India was jobs. "Roughly 12 million young people, 12 million, enter the Indian job market every year. Nearly 90% of them have a high school education or less. India is a democratic country and unlike China, it has to create jobs in a democratic environment. India does not have and nor does it want China's coercive instruments.  We cannot follow their model of massive factories controlled by fear. Jobs in India are going to come instead from small and medium-scale industries. India needs to turn a colossal number of small and medium businesses into international companies. Currently, all the attention in India is paid to the top 100 companies. Everything is geared towards them. Banking systems are monopolised by them, the doors of government are always open to them and laws are shaped by them . Meanwhile, entrepreneurs running small and medium businesses struggle to get bank loans. They have no protection and no support. Yet, these small and medium businesses are the bedrock of India and the world's innovation. Big businesses can easily manage the unpredictability of India. They are protected by their deep, deep pockets and connections. But the real innovative strength of India lies with the millions of small firms and young entrepreneurs that run them. And they are relying on us to build the financial, communication and political infrastructure that would allow them to turn their skills into global businesses," he said.
 
"India has triggered a massive process of human transformation. The nature of India's transformation has now reached a stage where it's moment is so powerful that our failure is no longer an option. Our success impacts the world, but should our country fail, it will shake the entire world. What India is trying to do is to connect 1.3 billion people into the global economy with minimum disruption possible in a peaceful and compassionate way. But don't be confused. If this process breaks down, the potential for violence is massive.
 
"I have given you the positives. But before I end I need to tell you what can go dangerously wrong. Our strength so far has been that we have done all this peacefully. What can destroy our momentum is the opposite energy:  hatred, anger and violence and the politics of polarization which has raised its ugly head in India today. Violence and hatred distract people from the task at hand. Liberal journalists being shot, people being lynched because they are Dalits, Muslims killed on suspicion of eating beef -  this is new in India and damages India very badly. The politics of hate divides and polarizes India, making millions of people feel that they have no future in their own country. In today's connected world, this is extremely dangerous. It isolates people and makes them vulnerable to radical ideas.
 
"Finally, listening to India is very important. She will give you all the answers that you seek. India's institutions have over 70 years built a profound understanding of our country. We have experts in every single field. Ignoring India's tremendous institutional knowledge and taking ad hoc decisions is reckless and dangerous. Decisions like demonetization, which removed 86% of cash from circulation overnight and was carried out unilaterally without asking the Chief Economic Advisor, the Cabinet or even Parliament, imposes a devastating cost in India. Currently we are not producing enough jobs. 30,000 new youngsters are joining the job market every single day and yet the government is only creating 500 jobs a day. And this doesn't include the massive pool of already unemployed youngsters. 
 
"The decline in economic growth today is worrying and its leading to an upsurge of anger in the country. The government's economic policies, demonetization and hastily-applied GST have caused tremendous damage. Millions of small businesses were simply wiped out as a result of demonetization. Farmers and manual labourers who use cash were hit extremely hard. Agriculture is in deep distress and farmer suicides have sky rocketed across the country. 
 
"Demonetization, a completely self-inflicted wound, caused approximately 2% loss in India's GDP. India cannot afford to grow and create jobs at the current rate. If we continue at the current rate, if India cannot give the millions of people entering the job market employment, anger will increase and it has the potential to derail what is being built so far. That will be catastrophic for India and the world beyond it," he added.
 
NNN
 
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