New Delhi, March 10: Wherever Congress president Rahul Gandhi goes controversy follows him. Be it his visits to different parts of the country, especially during election times, or his foreign sojourns, Rahul's every move comes under the scanner. Like last year, when he visited the United States (US) to meet the Indian diaspora including students at famous universities and business honchos, Rahul's recent three-day trip to Singapore as a part of the Congress party's efforts to connect with the Indian community abroad is also creating massive controversy back home. After Singapore, on Saturday, Rahul reached Malaysia.
It all started with a discussion at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, where Rahul was the main guest on Thursday. During the question and answer round, an Indian-origin economist and author in Singapore, Prasenjit K Basu, confronted the Congress president about lack of growth of per capita income when his family members were Prime Ministers of India.
This is what Basu, writer of "Asia Reborn", asked Rahul: "Why is it that during the years that your family ruled India, India's per capita income was growing less than the world average? And yet, in the years since your family relinquished the prime ministership of India, India's per capita income has grown substantially faster than the world average?"
According to a video about the Q&A session, Rahul instead of answering the question immediately ended up asking Basu another question. "What's your hypothesis?" Rahul asked. To which the author and teacher said that he has written about it in his book which Rahul must read. After Basu replied to Rahul's question, the audience broke into a big laughter which clearly showed that Rahul had lost the round. The moderator at the discussion asked Rahul if he would like to ignore the question.
However, Rahul refused to keep quiet and told Basu,"You are giving a helluva lot of power to one family." "So you are saying that I have absolutely no role in Indian politics from 2004 to today? You are saying that? Make up your mind. I either have a role or I don't, you can't give me both options," he said. For his answer, Rahul managed to get a round of applause from the audience.
The drama did not end there. The Congress tweeted another video from the event where Rahul was seen taking a dig at the Indian-origin economist by asking him to write one more book about the country's economy. The video tweeted by the Congress shows another member in the audience praising the party and the country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
"I am a great admirer of your great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru and I think all the good things... wherever India is today, it's because of the Congress," the unidentified audience member said.
Thereafter, Rahul gave a humorous response. "You are both going to extremes. I mean give me something in the middle. I mean, he's (Basu's) saying I am the cause of every single problem. And you are saying I'm the cause of every single solution. I mean, this is crazy," said Rahul.
The 47-year-old scion of the Gandhi family said that these extreme views reflected how polarised India has become. "This conversation shows you the polarisation. That gentleman (Basu) thinks that nothing has ever been done by the Congress party. This gentleman (second speaker) thinks that everything has been done by the Congress party," said Rahul as the audience burst out laughing.
"Let me tell you what the truth is. India's success is hugely because of India's people. However, anybody in this room who thinks that the Congress party is not part of that success...thinks liberalisation wasn't a success...green revolution was not a success ...needs to write a new book," he said.
Rahul's suggestion to those who disagree with India's success story to "write a new book" was clearly a swipe at Basu.
With political discourse hitting new lows everyday, Congress President Rahul Gandhi shows how to gracefully handle detractors and call their bluff. #RGinSingapore #IndiaAt70 pic.twitter.com/OnTJz0kzUx— Congress (@INCIndia) March 8, 2018
Now, Basu has threatened to take the Congress to the court for the video posted by the party's official twitter handle. Basu has called the video "a classic fake-news video". However, the video is not doctored. It is just that the Congress decided to highlight a "humourous answer" Rahul gave later during the discussion and mentioned Basu in it.
The author-economist allege that the Congress is using his image to "falsely advertise" the party president. "Withdraw this false video, or prepare for prosecution in Singapore's courts!", tweeted Basu.
This is a classic fake-news video. You are using my image to falsely advertise your politician, showing a sequence of events that did not occur. Withdraw this false video, or prepare for prosecution in Singapore’s courts!— Prasenjit K. Basu (@PrasenjitKBasu) March 8, 2018
Rahul also took a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi by stating that Basu would never have the ability to criticise him. "I am proud to sit in a room and have a gentleman say this (critical comments) to me. Now, there's something else... Mr. Narendra Modi would never do that. You would never have the ability to say what you said to me in front of Mr. Narendra Modi and am absolutely blazingly proud of that," said Rahul.
"After this meeting I want to give you a hug and say you are very important to me," he added.
Now, supporters of the BJP on Twitter alleged that the video posted by the Congress did not show how Rahul tried to "dodge" Basu's question initially. The critics slammed the Congress for "juxtaposing" the question of Basu to an answer of Rahul given later during the interaction to score brownie points.
On Saturday, the hashtag--#WhenYouAreRahul--was trending on Twitter. Head of the BJP's IT cell, Amit Malviya, also tweeted under the hashtag to attack Rahul.
Strange to see Rahul Gandhi obfuscating and avoiding direct response to Prof Basu’s question. Also what does Rahul Gandhi have to do with UPA government between 2004-14 unless he is admitting that Dr Singh was a titular head and the Gandhis were running the show. #WhenYouAreRahul— Amit Malviya (@malviyamit) March 9, 2018
If the critics slammed Rahul, his supporters praised the Congress president on Twitter.
#WhenYouAreRahul you dont have to be afraid of press or audience, and can bravely handle any question without pre-screening.— Suryanarayan Ganesh (@gsurya) March 9, 2018
When you are #MeekModi you will only talk to bootlicking sycophant journos through pre-screened questions.
As Rahul had cited in Singapore about the polarisation of India, the tweets under the hashtag clearly showcased that politics has left the country badly divided.