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You can grill me but not Modiji: Rahul

Rahul Gandhi and PK Basu in Singapore (PTI)

New Delhi: Rahul Gandhi said on Thursday he was "absolutely, blazingly proud" that a gentleman could criticise him to his face, underlining that this was the difference between him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Congress president had been asked at a question-answer session in Singapore why "the per capita income of India grew much less than the world average when your family ruled, but it grew faster when your family wasn't there".

"You are giving hell of a lot of power to one family," Rahul responded, avoiding an immediate confrontation.

But the questioner, P.K. Basu, who introduced himself as the author of the book Asia Reborn dealing with the economic and political history of the continent, stayed the course.

"India grew only after your family relinquished power," he repeated, prompting Rahul to ask: "You mean to say I didn't have a role between 2004 and 2014?"

Basu continued to argue, and the moderator moved to another questioner who began showering praise on Jawaharlal Nehru and his contribution to nation-building.

Rahul intervened: "Both of you are going to two extremes. He is saying I am the cause of every problem, you are saying I am the cause of every solution. This is crazy. Give me something in the middle."

The Congress chief continued: "This conversation shows polarisation - one person says we did nothing, another says we did everything. But the truth is India's success was hugely because of India's people.

"But if anybody in this room thinks the Congress was not part of that success, that getting freedom, one-man-one-vote, green revolution, telecom revolution, liberalisation, rights-based laws are not part of that success, he needs to write a new book."

The audience at Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, mostly consisting of students and teachers, broke into applause.

Addressing Basu, Rahul said: "But I have no animosity towards you. I have been taught to love my opponent. I respect your opinion though I differ and will contest. I am ready to sit with you in a room and discuss this. I may convince you or not. But Narendra Modi will never do that. You too would never have the ability to say in front of Modiji what you said to me. I am happy to have a gentleman say this to me. And I am absolutely, blazingly proud of that."

The applause continued.

Rahul repeated: "I have no animosity towards you. After the meeting, I am going to give you a hug. You are important to me because you represent an opinion."

Through the interaction, the Congress president underlined the difference between his and Modi's style of politics. "We see in India an aggressive, organised attack on the system. Judiciary, press... if you talk to businessmen, they tell you they are feeling intimidated. There is a general atmosphere of intimidation."

Replying to a question on minorities, Rahul said: "We are fighting the RSS-BJP since the beginning. (Mahatma) Gandhi died protecting the minorities' interests. We don't like an India where people are beaten up for what they eat, what they say, wear. But the fact is Modi won. We will defeat him in the next election.... He controls the lawmaking in India. An extremely nasty form of politics is playing out in India. But very soon you will see an India where everybody is respected, loved, where everybody will work together to take India ahead."

In response to a question on the public dissent by four senior Supreme Court judges, Rahul said: "Normally in India, people go to the judges for justice. For the first time in my life, I saw four Supreme Court judges actually go to the people for justice. They went to the press and said that they need the people to hear their voice as there is something fundamentally wrong. It is related to the case of (BJP chief) Amit Shah. There is a challenge to the institutional structure of our country."

The reference was to the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case, in which Shah was an accused. He was discharged within a month of the death of Justice B.H. Loya, who was hearing the case, in December 2014. A PIL has been filed seeking a probe into the death. The four Supreme Court judges, who had expressed concern at the allocation of cases by the Chief Justice, had referred to the Loya case.

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