'Was India really a giant black hole before May 2014 and start marching to progress only four years ago? Is this not an insult to the intelligence of of our people? '
'I knew Manmohan Singh would be a better prime minister than me'
'We were out-marketed. We could not compete with how Narendra Modi ran his campaign'
'Does maximum governance mean minimum truth? Does it mean alternative facts take the place of uncomfortable reality?'
Sonia Gandhi talks about politics, family, life after demitting the post of Congress president.
Former Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Friday tore into the Modi government alleging that the country is being led by "regressive vision" and asked if India was really a "giant black hole" before May 2014 and marched to progress only after the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power at the Centre.
Gandhi, 71, also alleged that the country, the society, its freedom are now all under systematic and sustained threat and that there is "rewriting of history, falsifying facts and fanning prejudice and bigotry".
Gandhi was addressing the India Today Conclave in Mumbai.
In deeply introspective comments both during her speech and a question-and-answer session, the United Progressive Alliance chairperson spoke on a wide range of topics, including her children, her own shortcomings and the role of democracy in India, the first time she has opened up since relinquishing the party president post.
Gandhi's no-holds-barred attack came a day after her son and Congress President Rahul Gandhi hit out at the BJP alleging there is a general atmosphere of "intimidation" in India where "nasty form of politics" of dividing people are being played to win elections.
During the interactive session, Sonia Gandhi alleged that the Modi government's "lack of accommodative spirit" has led to the present politics of acrimony in Parliament which has been rocked by disruptions during this entire week.
Gandhi also said she chose Manmohan Singh as the prime minister in 2004 as she was aware of her limitations and knew that he was a better candidate.
"I knew my limitations. I knew Manmohan Singh would be a better prime minister than me."
She alleged that there is shocking insensitivity to atrocities on Dalits and women and that the society is being polarised in a bid to win elections.
"Our country, our society, our freedom are now all under systematic and sustained threat. There is rewriting of history, falsifying facts and fanning prejudice and bigotry," she said.
"Today we are presented with an alternative and indeed regressive vision," Gandhi said.
"Was India really a giant black hole before May 2014 and start marching to progress only four years ago? Is this not an insult to the intelligence of of our people? It is not a matter of taking credit but acknowledging India's strength," said the Lok Sabha member from Rae Bareli.
She also said callous remarks about changing the Constitution were deliberate attempts to subvert the essence of India it enshrines.
"Provocative statements from the ruling establishments are not random or accidental but a part of a dangerous design. Alternate voices are being silenced. Freedom to think, marry according to ones wishes is under attack. Religious tensions are being fuelled, vigilante mobs and private armies have been let loose," she charged.
"Long standing principles that have stood the country well are being violated. Parliamentary majority is being interpreted as a licence to stifle debate and bulldoze legislations. Political opponents are being targeted through misuse of investigative agencies," she said.
"The opposition is not allowed to speak in Parliament. People are angry with the Congress for the disruptions in Parliament. But there are serious reasons for it. Parliamentary rules are not followed. There is no accommodative spirit. The opposition has a right to speak in Parliament," she said.
When asked to compare former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Modi, she said Vajpayee respected parliamentary procedures.
"We were better opponents and there were disagreements. But we had positive way of handling situations. we functioned well," she added.
She also said she does not know Modi as a person.
She said BJP allies like TRS, TDP and Shiv Sena are also coming into the well of the house to protest on various issues.
"'Acche Din' will soon be 'India Shining'," she said in reference to UPA's win despite BJP's 2004 slogan of 'India Shining'.
Continuing her attack on the NDA government, she said judiciary is under turmoil, freedom to differ, eat and marry is under attack and India's social DNA was being re-engineered.
"Does maximum governance mean minimum truth? Does it mean alternative facts take the place of uncomfortable reality? Take jobs for instance. Everyone knows employment situation is grim but all of a sudden we are told seven and a half million jobs were created in 2017.
"This claim was widely debunked. But, does it really make a difference? It doesn't. Because as soon as one myth is demolished another takes it place," she said.
Gandhi also felt the Congress needs to develop a new style of connecting with people at the organisational level.
"We also need to look at a way of how we project our programmes and policies," she said.
On whether she advises her son, Gandhi said she tries not to volunteer.
“He knows his responsibilities. I am there if he needs me. I try not to volunteer. He wants to revitalise the party by bringing in new faces along with senior leaders.
“He wants a balance of young and the seniors. It is not an easy task. But he has made it clear that he values seniors’ role and contributions in the party,” she said.
She was also candid in saying that she now found more time for herself after demitting the post of Congress president which she held for 19 years.
“I have more time for myself... To read and watch movies. I am also tiding up old papers of my mother-in-law (Indira Gandhi) and husband (Rajiv Gandhi). I will digitalise them. The papers are letters written by my mother-in-law to her son (Rajiv) and his replies. They are of sentimental value for me,” she said.
Reacting on criticism of Rahul not being in the country during counting of votes in northeastern states, she said the Congress president went to see his grandmother in Italy for three days after he had done his rounds of electioneering.
On the political role for her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, she said till now Priyanka has restricted herself to managing Rae Bareli and Amethi constituencies during elections.
“At the moment, she is pre-occupied with her children. It is up to her and one never knows the future,” Gandhi said.
Speaking on the Congress's loss to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance in 2014, she said besides “other issues”, the UPA government faced anti-incumbency for being in power for two terms.
“We were out-marketed. We could not compete with how Narendra Modi (prime minister) ran his campaign,” the UPA chairperson admitted.
Asked what advice she would give to the prime minister, Gandhi quipped, “I wouldn’t dare to advise him. There are many people around him to do so.”
She also said that she was optimistic that her party would bounce back in 2019. “We are not going to let BJP/NDA win,” Gandhi said.
On the Congress’s preparedness for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, she said she was not fond of slogans and empty promises.
“Don’t lie to the people and promise what you can’t implement,” she said in an apparent barb at Prime Minister Modi.
She also rejected that the Congress was taking up the “soft Hindutva” approach.
“Our opponents have branded us as a Muslim party. We have been visiting temples earlier too, but never made a show of it,” she said responding to a question on Rahul’s temple visits during the Gujarat polls.
On the arrest of Karti Chidambaram, son of former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Sonia Gandhi said she wasn’t aware of the details of the case.
“One of the means of getting at political opponents by this government is starting cases against them,” she charged.