New Delhi: Asserting that "we are battle ready and we are going to win", Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi Monday said in his first television interview that he was not thirsting for power but was out to "change the system" that would open up opportunities for young people, empower women and make India a manufacturing hub of the world.
Congress Party Vice President, Rahul Gandhi delivers his speech during the All India Congress Committee (AICC) meeting in New Delhi on January 17, 2014. Pic: AFP
He also said Modi governent was "abetting and pushing" the 2002 riots.
In an over one hour interview with Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of TIMES NOW news channel, Gandhi said he did not choose to be born a Gandhi but was a "serious politician" who stood for "opening up the system" and the election this time would be fought between those who want "deepening of democracy" and those who stood for "concentration of power".
He deflected pointed questions thrown at him regarding corruption by Congress party governments, whether in New Delhi or in the states, but said that "anyone who does any act of corruption will be punished". But he sidestepped questions on why the Congress failed to act against former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan or Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh who had been implicated in corrupt deals.
Gandhi took potshots at Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, saying his government was "abetting and pushing" the 2002 riots and the BJP believes "in concentration of power in hands of one man".
Gandhi described Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal as "a leader of an opposition party like many others."
"There is absolutely nothing I am scared of," Gandhi said in between volley of questions related to Modi but avoided answering a question on whether he would agree to a direct debate with Modi. "We are debating the issues everyday..." he said plainly.
Several times in the interview, Gandhi, 43, said his focus was on empowering people, particularly women, bringing in youngsters in Congress and taking everyone together.
The Congress scion said that he was not "driven by the desire for power" and was an "anomaly in the environment" he was in.
Gandhi did not directly answer persistent questions about Modi's jibes at him.
"The BJP has prime ministerial candidate, the BJP believes in concentration of power in the hands of one person, I fundamentally disagree with that, I believe in democracy, I believe in opening up the system. I believe in the RTI, I believe in giving power to our people. We have fundamentally different philosophies," he said.
He said the Gujarat government was "actually abetting and pushing" the 2002 riots and the difference with the 1984 riots was that during the anti-Sikh riots the then Congress government "was trying to stop the killing" while Modi's government was "allowing" it to happen.
Gandhi also acknowledged that "some Congress men were probably involved" in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that followed the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi. Asked if he would apologise for the riots in which more than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi, Gandhi veered away from the topic.
Asked how Modi government was "aiding and abetting the riots" since the court has given him a clean chit, Gandhi said: "I mean it's not me...it's the large number of people who were there, large number of people who saw actively the Government of Gujarat being involved in the riots."
On the Congress preparedness for the battle ahead, Gandhi said: "I think we will defeat the BJP in the next elections."
Gandhi also dwelt on the pain of the circumstances in which he grew up.
"In my life, I have seen my grandmother die, I have seen my father die, I have seen my grandmother go to jail and I have actually been through a tremendous amount of pain as a child when these things happen to you.
"I don't actually keep invoking my family name, I have mentioned my family name once or twice and then people report that," Gandhi said in response to a query.
He said that "every single thing" he has done in his political career has been to bring in youngsters. "I am absolutely against the concept of dynasty, anybody who knows me knows that and understands that."
But, in the same breath, he said that it cannot be wished away as it is a closed system. Gandhi said he did not get driven by the desire for power. "For me power is an instrument that can be used for certain things... it's not interesting to own it, to capture it or to hold it."
"Maybe it's because of my family circumstances and what happened to my family. Power per se, the quest for power, the thirst for power is not there in me. What is there in me, is a desire, a strong desire to reduce the pain that people feel," he added.
"Frankly in a lot of ways, I am an anomaly in the environment that I'm in."
Gandhi said that Congress had decided to support AAP in forming government in Delhi to see how much they prove themselves.
"We thought we would assist them, because our party felt we should give them a chance to prove themselves and one can see what they are doing and one can see exactly how much they have proved themselves," Gandhi said. Gandhi rejected the contention that the party had propped AAP to divide anti-Congress vote.
Gandhi said his dream was to make the country powerful. "I want to reject the way we do politics," he stated. Asked if he was not named a prime ministerial candidate of his party because he feared defeat, he shot back: "Defeat just makes me stronger" and said he took victory or defeat in his stride and was here for the long term and will not run away.
Gandhi to said India has to look at manufacturing . “We have already set up the corridors north, south, east and west, how we can take the energy of the Indian people and build a manufacturing superhouse.”
“I want to put India on the manufacturing map, I want to make this the centre of manufacturing in the world. I want to make this place at least as much as a manufacturing power as China," Gandhi said.