“Indian democracy is under pressure and under attack. The institutional framework which is required for a democracy … the Parliament, free press, the judiciary, just the idea of mobilization — these are all getting constrained. We are facing an attack on the basic structure of democracy,” Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi, while accusing the Modi-led government in India of unleashing an attack on the basic structure of Indian democracy.
Gandhi was addressing students at Cambridge University last week. He alleged that the Israeli spyware Pegasus had been used to snoop on him and several other politicians. He alleged that he had been warned by intelligence officers to be “careful” while speaking on the phone as his calls were being recorded.
Rahul Gandhi noted that in the Indian Constitution, the country is described as a Union of States and that Union requires negotiation and conversation. “It is that negotiation that is under attack and threat…there is also attack on minorities and press.
“I myself had Pegasus on my phone. Large number of politicians have Pegasus on their phones. I’ve been called by Intelligence officers who say please be careful of what you say on your phone as we are recording the stuff,” the Congress leader had said, according to news agency ANI.
Gandhi said, “This is a constant pressure that we feel. I’ve got a number of criminal liable cases registered against me for the things which, under no circumstances, be criminal cases. And that’s what we are trying to defend.”
He continued, “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.”
Hitting back at him, India’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Sports and Youth Affairs, Anurag Singh Thakur, claimed that the Congress leader was “once again crying on an international platform”. Addressing a press conference, he said: “He knew the consequences of doing this … The matter of Pegasus has occupied a deep corner in his head and heart.”
“Today, the kind of respect that Modiji has in the entire world and the recognition that India has gained under the leadership of Modiji … If no one, Rahul Gandhi should have at least listened to Italy’s Prime Minister and its leaders,” he added.
Dispensing with the long beard and white shirt that became his trademark look during the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi appeared last week looking sharp in a suit and trimmed beard ahead of his lecture at his alma mater Cambridge University.
Gandhi was set to deliver a student-only lecture at the university on “Learning to Listen in the 21st Century”. This is a part of his week-long tour in the United Kingdom, where he is also set to talk to diaspora groups.
Speaking at the India@75 event at Cambridge University’s Corpus Christi College on May 23 last year, Rahul said, “My problem with the RSS and the Prime Minister is that they are fiddling with the foundational structure of India. When you play the politics of polarisation, when you isolate and demonise 200 million people, you are doing something extremely dangerous and you are doing something that is fundamentally against the idea of India.”
He also accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of creating a vision of India that is not “inclusive”. He added, “I have studied Hinduism in enough detail to tell you that there’s absolutely nothing Hindu about wanting to murder people and beat people up.”
Six years earlier, he addressed a similar event – India@70 – at University of California, Berkeley. In the speech, he said “hatred, anger and violence and the politics of polarisation had raised its ugly head in India today”, and liberal institutions were being eroded.
During his online interviews and interactions in March and April 2021 for different American universities, Rahul said the BJP and the RSS had captured India’s institutional framework. He spoke with Prof Kaushik Basu for Cornell University, Prof Ashutosh Varshney for Brown University, and US diplomat Nicholas Burns for Harvard.
“There is not a single institution that is not under attack and it is systematically done. The judiciary, the press, the bureaucracy, the Election Commission … every single institution is systematically being filled by people who have a particular ideology and belong to a certain institution … I would not say eroding, I would say strangling,” he said during one such interaction.
In his conversation with Basu, he said that even if the BJP were defeated, it would be hard to get rid of people in the “institutional structure”. Rahul told Varshney, “Even Saddam Hussain and Gaddafi used to have elections and win those, but there was no institutional framework to protect that vote.” He also said that electoral democracy can be “destroyed” in the 21st century if one can control social media and have financial dominance. Speaking to students of IMT Business school in Dubai in January 2019, Gandhi said India’s “ethos” was built on “tolerance”.