Stepping up his attack on the BJP government, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has alleged that the structures of Indian democracy are under "brutal attack" and there is a full-scale assault on the institutions of the country.
The Opposition leader, who is in London as part of a UK tour, told reporters here that there are conversations ongoing within the Opposition to unite around an alternative vision for the country and act upon an "undercurrent of anger" over pressing issues such as unemployment, price rise, the concentration of wealth and violence against women.
The 52-year-old former Congress president referred to the income tax department's recent survey action against the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai as an example of the “suppression of voice across the country", a motivating factor behind his 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' – which he described as an expression of voice against the ruling BJP's attempt to silence the country.
"The reason the yatra became necessary is that the structures of our democracy are under brutal attack," Gandhi told reporters at an India Insights event organised by the Indian Journalists’ Association (IJA) on Saturday evening.
"The media, the institutional frameworks, judiciary, Parliament is all under attack and we were finding it very difficult to put the voice of the people through the normal channels," he alleged.
"The BBC has found out about it now, but it has been going on in India for the last nine years non-stop. Everybody knows that journalists are intimidated, they are attacked and threatened. The journalists who toe the line of the government are rewarded. So, it's part of a pattern and I wouldn't expect anything different. If the BBC stops writing against the government, everything will go back to normal. All the cases will disappear," he noted.
Gandhi expressed regret that democratic parts of the world, including the US and Europe, have failed to notice that a "large chunk of democracy has come undone".
"The BJP wants India to be silent. They want it to be quiet… because they want to be able to take what is India's and give it to their close friends. That’s the idea, to distract the population and then hand over India’s wealth to three, four, five people,” he said.
Gandhi's earlier comments at Cambridge University that Indian democracy is under attack and several politicians, including himself, are under surveillance, invited sharp reactions from the BJP that accused him of maligning the country's image on foreign soil after facing successive electoral setbacks.
"We can understand his hatred towards the Prime Minister, but the conspiracy to malign the country on foreign soil with the help of foreign friends raises questions on the agenda of the Congress," Anurag Thakur, the Information and Broadcasting minister, told reporters in Delhi on Friday.
Thakur said Gandhi was aware of the electoral rout the Congress was facing in the assembly elections and had resorted to levelling allegations from foreign soil.
"Once again, the Congress lost in the elections but their bankruptcy was evident when they lost no opportunity to malign India from foreign soil," Thakur said.
Asked about the Congress and Opposition plans for the next general election, Gandhi on Saturday said the battle at the polls is not just between political parties but also against institutions as there is "no level playing field" in Indian politics.
"Conversations are going on between the Opposition parties, I am aware of many of them. The basic idea that the RSS and the BJP need to be fought and defeated is deeply entrenched in the minds of the Opposition. There's no question about that," he said.
"There are tactical issues that require discussions… but it's important to understand that the Opposition in India is no longer fighting a political party. We're fighting the institutional structure of India now; the BJP and RSS which have captured almost all of India's institutions. So, the idea of a level playing field doesn’t exist because the institutions aren’t neutral," he said.
Gandhi also hit back at the government’s criticism that he had maligned the country on foreign soil during his lecture at Cambridge University earlier this week, where he had first raised the issue of Indian democracy being "under attack".
He said: "I have never defamed my country, I’m not interested in it, I will never do it. The BJP likes to twist what I say… the fact of the matter is the person who defames India when he goes abroad is the Prime Minister of India… saying there was a lost decade, and nothing happened in the last 10 years – so what about all those people who worked in India, who built India in those 10 years? Is he not insulting them? And, he's doing it on foreign soil."
The Congress MP added that there are billions of dollars behind a certain narrative being presented and pointed the finger at Gautam Adani, the Adani Group Founder, and Chairman.
"Mr. Adani seems to win every auction he takes part in," Gandhi said.
"I see with my own eyes what's going on in India. And I can see that Mr. Adani has gone from being the 609th richest man to the second richest man in a matter of three years. I can see that he's rewarded across the board. I can see he's allowed to dominate industries in every industry in the country,” he said, adding that the businessman has got a very good relationship with the Prime Minister.
Asked about India-China relations, Gandhi said India needs to be very careful of "hostile” and "aggressive" moves by the Chinese at the border and reiterated his points from his Cambridge lecture about the need for global production to shift away from a coercive China to more democratic structures.
"The Congress party's policy on China is very clear. We do not accept anybody entering our territory and pushing us around and pulling us. Doesn't matter who they are. That's not acceptable to us. And what has happened is that the Chinese have entered our territory, killed our soldiers, and the Prime Minister is denying it. That's the problem?” he said.
Gandhi said as far as India's foreign policy is concerned, he supports it. “I don't have a huge disagreement with it," he said in response to a question.
Concerning an invasion, he said, "we've already been invaded. I mean, we've got 2,000 square kilometres of our territory that is in the hands of the PLA. And the Prime Minister himself has stated that nobody has entered India. Not a single inch of land has been taken. And this has destroyed our negotiation position. Because our negotiators are being asked what's the fuss about? Your Prime Minister says that no land has been taken. So that's one aspect of it."
Gandhi is in London as part of a week-long visit to the UK.
He is also being hosted at an event in the House of Commons complex on behalf of the UK Opposition Labour Party and will address the Chatham House think-tank in London on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and wider geopolitical issues before concluding his visit to Britain.