Rahul Gandhi’s US visit is part of ‘new conversation’ on India’s future

In an effort to create and continue a new dialogue with India, especially with the powerful Indian Diaspora in the United States, Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi is on a two-week visit to the US during which he has been interacting with global thinkers, political leaders, business leaders, and address overseas Indians as part of a new conversation on the future of India as well as an outreach initiative by his party. During his trip to the US, Gandhi has been engaging with the Indian diaspora with the purpose of making them a part in India’s development.

In his first engagement, Gandhi, vice president of the Congress Party,  addressed a packed audience of students at the prestigious University of California, Barkley on Monday, September 18th on ‘India at 70: Reflections on the Path Forward’, in which offered his reflections on contemporary India and the path forward for the world’s largest democracy. Gandhi, 47, was received at the San Francisco airport by senior Congress leader Sam Pitroda and Shudh Singh, the president of Indian National Overseas Congress (INOC) US.

“He is here at the University of California Berkley, where Pandit (Jawaharlal Nehru) addressed in 1949 as the Prime Minister. Today we are at the cross roads where core value of Indian democracy secularism and pluralistic society is in danger,” Congress spokesman Madhu Goud Yaskhi said. Rahul Gandhi’s ongoing two-week visit to the United States is a belated attempt by the Congress to compete with the Bharatiya Janata Party for the goodwill of the Indian diaspora.

Gandhi has repeatedly raised the issue of joblessness during his meetings with experts, business leaders and Congressmen in the United States. “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,” Gandhi had said in his address at the University of California in Berkeley.

During his interaction with students at the prestigious Princeton University in New Jersey admitted that the Narendra Modi-led BJP came to power in India because people were angry with the Congress party over the issue of unemployment. Employment is an all-encompassing means to empower, enfranchise and involve Indians in the nation building process, he said.

“I think, the central reason why Mr Modi arose and to an extent why Mr Trump came, is the question of jobs in India and in the United States. There’s a large part of our populations that simply do not have jobs and cannot see a future. And, so they are feeling pain. And they have supported these types of leaders,” Gandhi told students, while pointing out that the prime minister was not doing enough to solve the key problem facing India.

At Princeton, Gandhi said India needed to transform itself to compete with China, and for that the people in the country required jobs. “Those same people who got angry with us because we couldn’t deliver on those 30,000 jobs (a day) are going to get angry with Mr Modi. The central question is resolving that problem. My main issue with Mr Modi is that he diverts that issue and points the finger somewhere else instead of saying listen we have a problem,” he said.

“There is anger building up in India right now. We can sense it. So to me the challenge is how to solve that job growth problem in a democratic environment. That is the challenge,” he said. “So we have to first accept it as a problem. Then we have to unite and try to solve it. Right now, nobody is even accepting it as a problem,” he argued. Gandhi also raised the issue of “polarization in India”. He said that the “politics of polarization” was a central challenge in India and some sections of the society, including the minority communities and tribal people, who do not feel that they are a part of the ruling BJP’s vision.

“In the 21st century, if you leave some people out of your vision, you are asking for trouble. New ideas would come, new different visions would develop. So, to me, central challenge in India is politics of polarization where you pit one community against the other and you create spaces for other people to come in,” Gandhi said. “There is a belt of 100 million tribal people who do not feel comfortable with the vision (of the BJP). There are a number of states in India, which don’t want a single vision forced down their throat. There are minority communities, they do not feel that they are a part of the vision. So that’s where the real danger is,” Gandhi said in response to a question. India’s strength has always been its ability to embrace people, he said.

The central pitch, according to Pitroda, is that the “existing world order”, which came up around the United States, is on its way out and India can take a lead in shaping the new order, which, for instance, is inclusive to begin with — “you cannot ignore 200 million Muslims (in India)”.

Gandhi was accompanied by former ministers Shashi Tharoor and Milind Deora. Overseas Indians wield considerable influence in the American establishment and in India. Gandhi’s visit is part of Pitroda’s plan to harness NRI support for the party – a strategy that has been a success for the Bharatiya Janata Party. While the Congress has large base among academics, intellectuals and the media, the BJP has been able to create a much broader support base among NRIs, mobilizing several thousands to attend Modi’s meetings in New York and San Jose in mammoth arenas. The plan is to create a network to connect NRIs to party leaders at state and district levels and to help returning NRIs enter Indian politics.

On Tuesday, this week, Gandhi met with a host of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, civil society representatives, think tanks and experts in California, and then travelled to Washington DC. In DC earlier this week, he began his visit to the capital, starting with think tank Centre for American Progress (CAP). The liberal-leaning CAP was founded by John Podesta, who chaired Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, and is run by Indian American Neera Tanden, a veteran of many Democratic administrations, including President Barack Obama’s. Former editor Gautam Adhikari is one of its experts.

Gandhi then visited another DC think-tank, the Atlantic Council, which has a strong focus on South Asia, and then the US-India Business Council, an advocacy group that works on promoting business ties between the two countries and which is now emerging from a specially bruising split. Gandhi had an evening interaction with experts at an interaction organized and hosted by conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation and Republican strategist Puneet Ahluwalia. Experts invited included Ashley Tellis of Carnegie and Anish Goel, a former Obama White House India hand. The tour concluded with Gandhi meeting about 2,000 prominent members of the Indian community at New York’s Marriott Hotel on September 20.

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