Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said the Opposition is pretty well united and a lot of good work is happening on the ground as he asserted that there is a hidden undercurrent building and it will "surprise" the people in the next general elections.
Gandhi, who is in the US for a three-city US tour, made the remarks in response to a series of questions during an interaction with the media at the National Press Club here.
"I think the Congress party will do very well in the next two years. I think it will,” said 52-year-old Gandhi, a former party president.
"I think there is a hidden undercurrent building…I think (the outcome) will surprise people,” he added.
Pointing out the outcome of the Karnataka assembly elections where Congress secured a comfortable majority and ousted the BJP from power, Gandhi said, "Wait and watch the next three or four state elections…. which is a better indicator of what's going to happen.” Responding to another question, Gandhi said the Opposition in India is pretty well united. "And I think it's getting more and more united. We're having conversations with all the Opposition (parties). I think quite a lot of good work is happening." "It's a complicated discussion because there are spaces where we have competing also with (other) Opposition (parties). So, it's a little bit of give and take as required. But I'm confident that that will happen,” he added.
Gandhi also answered a range of questions, including on press and religious freedoms in India, the issues faced by the minorities and on the state of the economy.
When asked about the worldwide high levels of popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Gandhi said there is a "definite capture of the institutions of the country. There's a definite capture of the press in the country. I'm not convinced that you know, I don't, I don't believe everything I hear." When asked what his party would do to implement to ensure the rights of minorities in India if it came to power, he said, "India has a very robust system already in place, (but) that system has been weakened...You have to have an independent set of institutions that are not pressurized and controlled. And that's been the norm in India. This is an aberration that is taking place in India...If you say that if Congress came to power that they could quickly be restored, quickly." On weakening press freedom in India, he said press freedom is very, very critical for democracy.
"It's not just press freedom. It's political access on multiple axis, there is a clamp down on the institutional framework that allowed India to talk, that allowed the Indian people to negotiate.... And that structure that allows the negotiation between India's people is coming under pressure,” he added.
On US-India ties, he said the relationship between India and the United States is very, very important.
"It's important to have a defense relationship. But I think we need to also consider other areas (of cooperation)," he added.
'BJP will be decimated in the next three-four assembly elections'
At a reception hosted for him by eminent Indian American Frank Islam, Rahul Gandhi has said that the BJP will be "decimated" in the next three-four assembly elections by the Congress, emphasising that they have the basic requirements that are needed to defeat the ruling party which do not have the support of the vast majority of the Indian population.
“There is a tendency of people to believe that this sort of juggernaut of the RSS and the BJP is unstoppable. This is not the case. I'll make a little prediction here. You will see that the next three or four elections that we fight directly with the BJP will be decimated,” Gandhi said in response to a question at the reception.
“I can give it to you right now, that they're gonna have a really tough time in these assembly elections. We'll do to them the very similar stuff that we've done in Karnataka. But if you ask the Indian media that's not going to happen,” he said.
The Congress secured a comfortable majority and ousted the BJP from power in Karnataka in the May 10 assembly elections.
The visiting leader told the invited group of Indian Americans, members of the think-tank community and lawmakers that the Indian press is currently giving a highly favourable version of the BJP.
“Please realise that 60 per cent of India does not vote for the BJP, does not vote for Narendra Modi. That's something you have to remember. The BJP has the instruments of noise in their hand, so they can shout, they can scream, they can distort, they can yell, and they are much better at doing that. But they do not have the vast majority of the Indian population (supporting them),” he said.
Responding to another question, Gandhi said that he is convinced that the Congress will be able to defeat the BJP.
Assembly elections will be held in five states -- Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram -- later this year, setting the stage for the crucial general elections in 2024.
“Rebuilding the democratic architecture is not gonna be easy. It’s gonna be difficult. It’s gonna take time. But we are absolutely convinced that we have the basic requirements that are needed to defeat the BJP,” the 52-year-old former Congress party President said.
“You will hear from the media that Modi is impossible to defeat. A lot of it is exaggerated. Modi is actually quite vulnerable. There's huge unemployment in the country, a massive increase in prices in the country, and these things in India, pinch people, very, very quickly and very hard,” he said.
“But it's been a very interesting time for me to see how this process plays out. I would've never imagined that this is how democracy is attacked. This is the method of attacking a democracy. It has been very good for me,” he said responding to a question on his disqualification as an MP.
The Wayanad (Kerala) Member of Parliament was disqualified from Lok Sabha earlier this year after he was convicted by a Surat court in a 2019 criminal defamation case over his "Modi surname" remark.
“These are good things for me because they teach me and they crystalise exactly what I'm supposed to do and how I'm supposed to do it. I thank all of you for your support, your love and affection. It means a lot to me, especially coming to the United States and seeing that there are many, many people who are ready to fight for Indian democracy and protection,” he said.