India’s ruling Congress party is “reasonably confident” of winning general elections to be held by May, its vice president Rahul Gandhi said, even as opinion polls show the party is set for its worst-ever performance.
“In the last 10 years, we gave the country the fastest economic growth it’s ever had,” Gandhi, 43, said in a rare televised interview with the Times Now channel that was broadcast yesterday. The government has transformed the rural economy, and the party is “battle ready,” he said.
Rahul Gandhi’s family has dominated the Congress party and Indian politics for more than six decades, and he’s faced high expectations since he was first elected to parliament in 2004. His mother, Sonia Gandhi, is the party president. Under Congress, economic expansion has slumped to a decade low and inflation is running at almost 10 percent, the fastest in Asia.
“If the Congress party so chooses and Congress party wants me to do anything for them, I am happy to do that,” Gandhi said, indicating he won’t decline the prime ministerial post if Congress retains power.
The party earlier this month opted against making Gandhi its formal prime ministerial candidate, a move described by his political opponent Narendra Modi as a signal Congress would lose the election.
“There is absolutely nothing I am scared off,” Gandhi said, responding to a question on whether he fears losing to Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate Modi. “I have an aim, I have a clear aim in my mind and the aim is that I don’t like what I see in Indian politics, it is something that is inside my heart.”
Gandhi said he supports “opening up” India’s political system, rather than concentrating power in one person, which he said is the objective of Modi and the BJP. Gandhi said he wants to expand a rural workfare program introduced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government.
Gandhi also said India should be as much of a manufacturing power as China. His other priorities included empowering women and harnessing the potential of India’s youthful workforce.
“Overall it is just pass grade,” said Mohan Guruswamy, chairman of the Centre for Policy Alternatives in New Delhi, referring to the Congress vice president’s performance. “He is showing some vision, but not able to express that and he is showing some sincerity, but not able to bring confidence.”
The BJP is set to win 188 seats in the 545-member lower house, surpassing the 182 seats it won in 1999, according to a C-Voter poll for India Today published on Jan. 23. Congress may get as few as 91 seats versus 210 now, dropping to its lowest on record, the poll indicated, without providing a margin of error. A separate survey on Jan. 24 showed the BJP winning as many as 210 seats, with a maximum of 108 for Congress.
Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, is projecting his record of governance and stronger-than-average economic growth in the state he has ruled since 2001 in an attempt to propel his party to national power.
Gandhi said Modi’s government was responsible for “abetting and pushing” anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002, which killed more than 1,000 people and left Modi barred from entering the U.S.
The riots followed the killing of Hindu activists in a train fire, a blaze for which Muslims were later found guilty. While human rights groups accuse Modi of failing to control subsequent violence, he denies wrongdoing and a Supreme Court-appointed panel found no evidence that he made decisions that prevented victims from receiving help.
Gandhi “could have been more aggressive in attacking Modi,” said Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, an independent analyst who has covered politics for more than three decades. “He was delightfully vague on some issues, while harping on his pet themes.”