The President of the Indian National Congress, Rahul Gandhi, gave the Süddeutsche Zeitung the following interview during a visit to the city of Hamburg, Germany.
Mr Gandhi, India is getting ready for national elections in 2019, and everybody expects a tough fight. But you stunned Indians the other day in Parliament with a surprising move. You suddenly walked over to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, your biggest rival. And you gave him a big hug. What was that supposed to mean?
I think across the world, politics has become very acrimonious and nasty. And I wanted to clearly say that I can oppose Mr Modi, I can fight him on issues, but I don’t have to have personal hatred or animosity towards him. In the culture where I come from, hatred is a choice. I decide to hate somebody, and I think it is something very destructive.
So are you saying Modi’s party, the BJP, which is rooted in the Hindu nationalist movement, is running its campaign based on hatred?
Of course, that is what they do. But it is not what I want to do. Hatred stops conversations, and I think in the 21st century we need conversations, we need to listen to each other, we need to talk to each other, we may not agree to each other, but we still don’t have to blind ourselves with hate.
I think you need to explain this a little more.
Mr Modi has given the opposition many opportunities. His way of running India is counter to the basic ethos of our country. India is an open society, it is a compassionate place, it is a sensitive place. And Mr Modi’s politics have not been compassionate and sensitive. He is also doing things to India that are dangerous. He is polarizing the politics of the country. And he made important promises, for instance on jobs and protecting agriculture. But he basically failed on them. That is where the real opportunity for the opposition is coming from.
But are you making use of the opportunity? You belong to India’s most powerful political dynasty, yet you have repeatedly been called a “reluctant candidate.” I just want to know: Are you ready to beat Mr Modi in 2019 and become India’s next prime minister in case you win the race?
Dynasty is the wrong word. My family has always been elected. Dynasty has the idea of not being elected behind it. We are people who have a particular idea where India should be going., who have always been in touch with the people.
So give me the most important reason why you and not Mr Modi should be the Prime Minister of India.
Because I listen to people.
Is that the way to rule a country?
I respect institutions. I respect the knowledge of other people. Mr Modi does not listen to anybody. He speaks, but he does not even respect the people in his cabinet. And I do not think a country of the size of India can be run like that.
Let’s come back to your family. Your great-grandfather was a founding father of India, your grandmother and your father were both prime ministers of this country. Your family has shaped Indian politics. And now it is you, Nehru’s great-grandson, who is aiming to take the top job. So it is not surprising that people see you as belonging to a dynasty.
Yes, it was easy for me to enter politics. But there are advantages and disadvantages to this. I have been mercilessly attacked by the BJP over the past four years.
You say Mr Modi can’t run this country. Yet, according to a recent poll, he is still the preferred prime ministerial candidate. If Indians would vote now, 49 percent would want him again as PM, and only 27 percent would vote for you, according to a poll published by India Today. So Modi is still popular. How do you explain this, given that you have suggested he is failing?
It is true, Mr Modi certainly has a lot of followers, but there are also many who do not support him, and their numbers are increasing dramatically. Mr Modi has not been successful on many things he committed to. Every young person in India, for instance, is looking for a future with a job. According to Indian government figures, India creates 450 jobs in 24 hours. China, in the same 24 hours, produces 50,000 jobs. Farmer suicides are at an all-time high. The agricultural system has for all intents and purposes broken down. Modi struggles to solve the problems which India is facing. This results in tremendous anger. People are getting killed because of the caste they belong to, because of the religion they belong to.
Some opponents of the BJP have argued that Modi’s party is undermining the legacy of your great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, founder of the nation. He aimed at a pluralistic, tolerant and multi-religious state, not a Hindu state. Do you share this criticism?
One-hundred percent, that it is what they are doing. There is an ideological war taking place in India these days, with two competing visions of Hinduism. We defend Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of India, where everybody has a space, where everybody is allowed to aspire. And there is the vision of the RSS….
…you are referring to the Hindu nationalist volunteer organization with millions of followers…
I am fighting the ideology of the RSS.I It is an ideology of division, hatred and anger. I believe in an India that belongs to everybody. India can’t be successful on the basis of a divisive ideology, so I feel it is important that I do this work. Since the BJP came to government, lower castes, Muslims, Sikhs and other minorities are feeling discriminated against. Large groups of people feel threatened.
It is also women who face discrimination and violence in your country; the brutality has shocked the whole world. Some experts say that India is the most dangerous place for women in the world. Do you share this view?
I would disagree with the idea that India is the most unsafe place for women. There is a huge amount of violence, some to be seen on the streets, some hidden in homes. I think it is a cultural issue, an issue of how Indian men view Indian women, and it will require a huge amount of work to fix it. When it comes to politics I do not see the amount of women that I should. Unless you get women into position of power, you won’t change laws. So I do a lot of work trying to get women into the Congress Party.
Let us talk about Prime Minister Modi again. Does he not have a very significant advantage in the race for votes? He can claim that he made it from the bottom, from being a tea seller, to the very top. Isn’t a self-made man much more attractive than a candidate like you, who comes from a rich, privileged family?
I feel Indian people are much more concerned about how a leader is solving their problems than where he comes from. On a lot of issues I have quite a deep understanding of my country. The passion I have for my country, the desire to help my country, is significantly more important than who my father was.
A few days ago you commemorated the birthday of your father, who was assassinated in 1991. You tweeted that his death left a deep void in your life. In 1984, your grandmother, Indira Gandhi, who was close to you, was assassinated. That’s two heavy losses while you were still very young. So people might wonder: Why do you pursue the same path that draws you into politics after so much suffering in your family?
My grandmother and my father were fighting for certain ideas. As my country is being divided and a tremendous amount of hatred is being spread by the BJP and the RSS, it is very important for any young Indian to fight those forces. It is an ideological fight for the nature of India, and I don’t think that the loss of family members should deter you from taking up this fight. But it is true. There is a significant risk because I do fight against fanatics. I am prepared to take it for my country.
Do you feel a certain duty to follow in the footsteps of your grandmother and father?
No, but I am proud of what they did.
How do you cope with the trauma of having both your father and grandmother be assassinated?
Quite a few years have passed. And I have been able to understand what happened. I have managed to overcome and forgive the people for what they did. This is the reason why I do not think about it every day. I don’t carry any hate, and that is the most important thing.
It does not seem that campaigning times leave a lot of time for a private life. You are still a bachelor. There are many rumors that you will get married soon. Do you have any updates?
(Gandhi, laughing) That is another thing my opponents keep spreading. No, there are no immediate plans to marry.
So perhaps after the election?
There are no immediate plans.
Then let us turn back to politics: You often mention the destructive force of hatred. In 2010, Wikileaks published a conversation that you had told with the U.S. Ambassador, in which you allegedly said that Hindu extremists pose a greater danger to your country than Muslim militants.
I was misquoted there. What I said was that religious polarization, which is dividing India, is very dangerous. And I think that the politics of the RSS and of Narendra Modi depend on dividing India, because they require India to be angry.
So where is this leading to?
You see where this is leading. It leads to violence and a tremendous amount of anger. You can’t run a successful economy and a successful country in the 21st century under those circumstances. India’s strength has always been its ability to carry everybody. It is a very complex place, but the beautiful thing is that we have been able to run this extremely complex country peacefully and with compassion. The BJP and the RSS are trying to transform the nature of my country. They’re trying to impose a very rigid ideology. A fascistic ideology. Many young people in India are fighting this, and I am one of them.