Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday, March 17, took a dig at PM Modi-led central government saying that electoral democracy can be "destroyed" in the 21st century if one can control social media and institutions and has financial dominance.
Citing the examples of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, Gandhi said even "they used to have elections and win those, but there was no institutional framework to protect that vote."
Gandhi was speaking at an online interaction with Professor Ashutosh Varshney of Brown University in the US.
When asked about Sweden's V-Dem Institute's democracy report, which has downgraded India from the "world's largest democracy" to an "electoral autocracy" and the US government-funded NGO, Freedom House, downgrading the country's status from "free" to "partly free," the Congress leader said these foreign institutions have their view, but "frankly, we do not need a stamp from them".
Gandhi, however, added that directionally, what they are saying is "correct".
"I would add one thing. I would say they are much behind the curve. I think the situation is actually much worse than they imagined," he said.
During his interaction with Varshney, 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.
Responding to another question from Varshney, Gandhi said with modern technology coming in, if a party controls WhatsApp and Facebook, it need not attack the elections.
"You can destroy an electoral democracy in the 21st century if you've got Facebook, WhatsApp if you have financial dominance and if you control institutions, why wouldn't you let people just go and vote...just keep that pretense," 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.
On the question of whether others should become leaders of 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."
The Congress leader said he has been pushing for polls in the party since day one and has been mauled in the press because he wants elections.