Bharatiya Janata Party member of Parliament Varun Gandhi has turned down the Oxford Union's invite to speak at a debate on whether India is on the right path under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying he sees no merit or integrity in voicing domestic challenges at an international forum and that such a step will be a "dishonourable act".
A source said Gandhi, who has been at times critical of the government's policies, took the decision as the noted debating society based at Oxford in England wanted him to speak against the motion that ‘This house believes Modi's India is on the right path’.
The development comes incidentally at a time of a raging debate over his cousin and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's comments in London which have been described by the ruling party as "demeaning" to Indian democracy, more so as they were made from foreign soil.
The invitation for the debate, scheduled between April and June, was extended to the BJP lawmaker on behalf of the union's president Matthew Dick.
Declining the invite, he said in his reply to the union that citizens like him regularly have the opportunity to discuss topics like this with ease in India, raising criticism of government policies in the public square and the august Parliament.
However, such criticism must be made within India to policy-makers and raising them outside the country would be inimical to its interest and a "dishonourable act", he said.
Politicians like him may have their differences on individual policies at the central and state levels, however, they are all together on the same path for India's rise, he said.
The union's invite to Gandhi said Prime Minister Modi's rule has catapulted India to greater prominence on the global stage, with many equating his policy agendas to robust economic growth, tackling corruption, and putting "India first".
On the other hand, his administration has been criticised for mishandling a growing discontent within the agricultural sector, "instigating" conflict between religious groups, and failing to revitalise the health and education sectors, it added.
"Against the backdrop of ever-strong popularity among voters, it is imperative to discuss whether the BJP's direction under Modi has been more polarising than unifying. The question then becomes: what (or who) is the right path for India as it forges ahead into the future?" the invite to him read.
When PTI in London sought a comment from the Oxford Union over the weekly debates planned between April 27 and June 15, a spokesperson said: "We have nothing to say on this."
While thanking the union for the "great honour", Gandhi replied that he believed the topic at hand is one with a "predefined conclusion" and declined the invitation.
He said, "As an elected representative, I see it as my job to strengthen our system by studying and evaluating policy initiatives and offering feedback; by taking up issues of national interest and suggesting possible solutions; by engaging with the public to raise and showcase legitimate concerns. It is a priority to participate in the national debate both within Parliament and through other fora in a constant and constructive manner."
The Pilibhit MP added, "However, such comment must be offered within India to Indian policy-makers. I see no merit or integrity in vocalising internal challenges in an international forum."
India is on the right path for development and inclusiveness, a path that has been laid out and pursued by governments of varied political affiliations over the past seven decades since Independence with a push for robust economic growth, revitalising agriculture, education and healthcare, and putting India's interests first, he said.
Every vibrant democracy offers its citizens the freedom and opportunity to engage with issues, he noted.
As an author, public policy commentator and member of Parliament, participation in such an event is a meaningful contribution towards enabling discourse and dialogue to address and resolve public concerns, he said while underlining his discomfort with the chosen topic as it is not one that offers much scope for debate or dispute.