(Bloomberg) -- Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, on a visit to the US, accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of making economic missteps and undermining democratic institutions, just weeks before President Joe Biden hosts him for a state dinner.
“There is a definite capture of the institutions of the country,” Gandhi told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday.
“Indian democracy is a global public good,” he said. “A collapse in democracy in India will have an impact on the world. So that’s for you to think about — how much you value Indian democracy.”
The warning and the criticism of Modi’s domestic record occurs as America’s courtship of India has become a key part of its strategy to counter China’s influence in Asia. Avoiding criticism of the Modi government has been part of that strategy, and Biden is scheduled to host Modi for a state dinner on June 22.
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Modi’s government has come under intense criticism for the treatment of religious minorities and journalists as well as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s singling out of opposition lawmakers and weakening democratic safeguards. Gandhi was recently disqualified from Parliament over a defamation case related to criticism of Modi.
But US diplomats have chosen to remain publicly silent on India’s democratic backsliding, and instead engage with the nation’s authorities privately, according to senior US officials.
Gandhi said Modi’s government wasn’t generating the jobs India needs and was too close to the country’s giant conglomerates. He said the Bharatiya Janata Party’s policies — including the chaotic demonetization of currency in 2016 and the poor implementation of a goods and services tax — have hit small and medium sized businesses hard.
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“Unfortunately, having three or four massive businesses doesn’t translate into jobs — it can’t,” Gandhi said, adding that an election setback for Modi’s party in the southern state of Karnataka was a sign of the dissatisfaction.
A spokesman for the Indian Embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Gandhi’s remarks.
Gandhi said his ejection from Parliament could actually be a benefit as he and his Congress Party battles the prime minister in a federal election next year.
“My disqualification, in many ways, is an advantage,” Gandhi said. “They’ve given me a gift. It’s not apparent now. But I think they have.”
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