WATCH LIVE: Rahul Gandhi clears stand on terrorism, love, gender equality and Hindi-focused governance

Rahul Gandhi at Stella Maris College, Chennai

Congress President Rahul Gandhi promised to reserve 33% of all government jobs in India to women if the Congress Party comes to power and said his government would correct the North-Indian focus of the current government.

Interacting with females students at Chennai’s Stella Maris College, Gandhi said women are smarter than men, and that he wants absolute equality between men and women in India and attempts to “crush the history, the language and the culture of the Tamil people” should be stopped.

The event, called ‘Change Makers: How Young Women Inspire The New World – A Conversation With Rahul Gandhi’, is part of Rahul Gandhi’s attempts to reach out to the electorate ahead of general elections next month.

PRIVATIZATION

Interacting with the students, Rahul Gandhi said he was not in favor of ‘blatant privatization’ in the education sector.

Taking a leaf out of the playbook of leaders like Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Rahul Gandhi said government institutions should set the standards, not private institutions.

“I don’t believe that the solution to India’s problem in education in blatant privatization. I believe there is a place for private institutions. But government-funded, government institutions.. should be the standard bearers,” he said, holding up the IITs as an example.

“The government has a responsibility to set the benchmark, and then everybody follows that,” he said, adding that the country should spend 6% of its GDP on education. Currently India spends less than 3% on the same.

WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT

Rahul Gandhi also applauded South Indian states for treating women better than their North Indian counterparts.

“If you go to North India, if you go to Uttar Pradesh, if you go to Bihar, and you see the treatment of women, you’d be shocked. So, there’s a cultural aspect, and I think Tamil Nadu is one of the leaders in how it treats its women… but there’s still a lot of improvement required in Tamil Nadu as well.”

He said he wants absolute equality for men and women.

“I think women should be at the same level as men in everything…I don’t see them leading enough companies. I don’t see them leading enough states, and I don’t see enough of them in the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabhas,” he said, adding that the Congress Party will pass women’s reservation bills in Lok Sabha and in all the states where it is in power.

Moreover, he said, the Congress will reserve 33% of all government jobs for women, adding that attitudes to women need to change across the board.

“I think generally, women are smarter than men. That’s where I come from,” he added.

ECONOMIC GROWTH

Rahul Gandhi said he would try to lift the economic growth of India by lifting the mood of the country.

The Congress president said there can be no economic growth in an atmosphere of fear and discrimination, as was inspired by measures like demonetization.

“Economic growth is directly related to the mood of the country,” Gandhi said, when asked about what his party plans to do about the economy.

“So the first thing we would do is to change the mood of the country. We would change the country to a place where people feel happy and empowered, to a place where people relate to each other in a pleasant, loving way. That’s the first thing we do,” he said.

CORRUPTION

Rahul Gandhi also said that Narendra Modi gave the money deposited by ordinary citizens in India during demonetization to his cronies, including Nirav Modi.

“The money that you gave, your parents gave to the banks during demonetization, Mr Narendra Modi gave to Nirav Modi,” he said.

“The government of India gave Nirav Modi 35,000 cr,” he added. “If the banks gave you 30 lakhs, you would create more jobs than Nirav Modi did. All Nirav Modi was, was a hollow shell for stealing money from India’s banks.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rogue PNB employees are reported to have issued fake guarantees to Nirav Modi in 2011. The guarantees were rolled over every year, and sometimes even expanded in scope. Demonetization happened in November 2016.

NORTH VS SOUTH

Rahul Gandhi also addressed the widely held sentiment among South Indians, especially in Tamil Nadu, that the current BJP government is not sensitive enough to the aspirations and needs of South Indians. He said attempts to crush the culture of Tamil people should not be allowed.

“Today’s government has a North Indian specific focus,” Rahul Gandhi said. “They have a north-centric view. I believe that all parts of India are equal and all parts of India should have equal say in the country’s future.”

“I believe that Tamil Nadu and the South should have a voice in the national government and that the basic trajectory of the nation should include the feelings and aspirations of the Tamil people, should include the sentiments of the Tamil people.

“It should not be that the government of India is trying to subvert and crush the history, the language and the culture of the Tamil people,” he said, adding that it is very important that people from Tamil Nadu should have senior positions in the central government.

KASHMIR & LOVE

Rahul Gandhi also attacked the confrontational attitude taken by the government of India towards Kashmiri separatists.

“Today, Narendra Modiji’s policies are setting fire to Kashmir. It is Narendra Modiji’s politicies that are allowing Pakistan to carry out terrorist acts in India.”

Instead, Rahul Gandhi said, a soft approach should be adopted towards Kashmiris aimed at winning their hearts through love.

“If the Prime Minister of India truly wants to embrace the people of Kashmir, the people of Kashmir will embrace the Prime Minister of India. If the Prime Minister of India does not want to embrace the people of Kashmir, the people of Kashmir will not embrace the Prime Minister of India. It’s that simple.

“It starts, like everything, from the heart. Do you want to actually solve the problem? Do you actually care for the people? Do you actually want to reach out to them, or are they just a political instrument to you?”

“The people of Kashmir has to be engaged with India, have to be brought to our side. They are our assets. Mr Narendra Modi’s policies push the people of Kashmir away.”

He also accused Narendra Modi of being reactive, instead of being proactive, on terrorism in the valley. He said Modi’s politicies are aimed at assuaging public opinion, and not guided by a strategy or plan.

“When we did it systematically and strategically, we actually crushed terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir,” the Congress scion said, adding that blaming Pakistan was not the solution to the problem.

“We understand that Pakistan is trying to use every opportunity to carry out terrorism in India. It is our responsibility to stop them from doing so… I understand that Pakistan is going to do. It is the responsibility of the government of India to save the people of India.”

OUTREACH

Rahul Gandhi has made it a point to reach out to young voters via interactive events, even as rival Narendra Modi makes his pitches in large rallies.

Stella Maris College is a Catholic institution of higher education for women in Chennai, India and is considered to be among the most prestigious in the city.

It is an autonomous college affiliated to the University of Madras and is partly residential.

The college, which is under the direction of the Society of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, is a minority institution that provides university education in a Christian atmosphere.

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