Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has said that India doesn't need a "stamp" from international institutions which recently downgraded India as a democracy.
Speaking during an online interaction with Professor Ashutosh Varshney of Brown University in the US, Gandhi stated that although directionally, what they said is "correct", and that they may have their view, but "frankly, we don't need a stamp from them."
Sweden's V-Dem Institute's democracy report had recently downgraded India from "world's largest democracy" to an "electoral autocracy". The US government-funded NGO, Freedom House, also downgraded the country's status from "free" to "partly free".
Gandhi, however, added that the situation is "much worse" in India and that the institutions are under assault with control of communication and financial dominance in favour of the ruling party.
"I would say they are much behind the curve. I think the situation is actually much worse than they imagined," Gandhi noted. Meanwhile, the government has strongly rebutted the Freedom House report and called it "misleading, incorrect and misplaced," while asserting that the country has well-established democratic practices.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar also slammed global bodies for their "hypocrisy" and called them "self-appointed custodians of the world, who find it very difficult to stomach that somebody in India is not looking for their approval."
Gandhi further stated that he was protecting a certain ideology in the Congress party and would not step aside just because someone else does not like it and continue to fight the RSS. He also said he favoured internal democracy in Congress and has promoted many leaders within the party.
He said that electoral democracy can be "destroyed" in the 21st century if one can control the social media and institutions and has financial dominance while citing the examples of Saddam Hussain and Muammar Gaddafi.
During his interaction with Varshney and the students and faculty members of Brown University, Gandhi said one cannot separate electoral democracy from institutional frameworks.
"An election is not simply about people going and pressing a button on a voting machine. An election is about narrative, about institutions that make sure that the framework in the country is operating properly, an election is about a judiciary that is being fair, an election is about a debate that is taking place in Parliament. So you need those things for the vote to count," he said, noting that even Saddam Hussain and Gaddafi used to have elections and win those, but there was no institutional framework to protect that vote.
Asked whether he would step aside and allow others to become leaders in the party, the former Congress chief said he is fighting an ideological war and would continue to do so.
"I believe in certain ideas and I defend those ideas. I do not really care what my name is or who my grandfather was. There are certain ideas that I defend, and I am going to defend them, whether anybody likes it or not," he said.
Gandhi said nobody from his family has been prime minister since 1989, "but there is an obsession that somehow we are in power."
On a question on should others become leaders in the Congress, Gandhi said, "Absolutely, 100 per cent. I am more than happy to push as many leaders as possible and make as many of them successful and that is my record...that is all I do all day long. I push people and push them forward."
He said he has been pushing for elections in the party since day one and has been mauled in the press because he wants elections.
To another question from Varshney, Gandhi said with modern technology coming in, if one controls WhatsApp and Facebook, one does not need to attack the vote as one can control the narrative.
"You can destroy an electoral democracy in the 21st century if you have got Facebook, WhatsApp, if you have financial dominance and if you control the institutions, why wouldn't you let people just go and vote...just keep that pretence," he said.
Gandhi alleged that the RSS has captured India's institutions and it has been doing so openly since 2014 when the BJP came to power at the Centre.
"It is very obvious to me that the institutions allowed a negotiation between our identities, cultures, languages. What I see is a determined attack on those institutions and a capture of those institutions," he noted.
Asked if the situation is comparable to the US, Gandhi said there are elements of that taking place in the US.
"I am nobody to comment on the US.... But my sense is that the American institutions are showing much more resilience than the Indian ones. I get the sense that the American system is countering this onslaught better than our system," he said.