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Rahul Gandhi calls on US audience to stand up for ‘modern India’

Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi pressed his criticism of the country’s leadership in a speech Sunday, calling for Indians in the U.S. and back home to stand up for democracy and the Indian constitution.

Gandhi, a sharp critic of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was expelled from Parliament, accused Modi and his Bharativa Janata Party (BJP) of dividing the country and failing to focus on important issues such as unemployment and education.

“To be nasty to people, to be arrogant, to be violent, these are not Indian values,” Gandhi, 52, told a crowd of about 700 at the Indian Overseas Congress USA event at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. He spoke just after a minute of silence recognizing a massive train derailment in eastern India that killed 275 people and injured hundreds more.

Gandhi has been on a three-city tour of the United States, including speaking engagements at Stanford University in California and the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, U.S. congressional leaders have invited Modi to address a joint meeting of Congress later this month. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other leaders announced the address as an “opportunity to share your vision for India’s future and speak to the global challenges our countries both face.”

Grandson of former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi is a member of the Indian National Congress party. He is considered to be Modi’s main challenger in the upcoming 2024 elections.

“Modern India cannot exist without our constitution and our democracy,” he said Sunday. He also urged a stronger partnership between India and the U.S. to offset China’s influence.

“One of the things we have to think about is the bridge between India and the United States,” he said. “How do we compete with the challenge the Chinese have placed on the table,” he asked, specifically citing issues of mobility and the world’s energy supply.

The Congress Party defeated the BJP in recent state elections in the Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka states, wins that came after a series of state elections defeats after Modi became India’s prime minister in 2014. Gandhi now holds no official position in his party. He gave up the post of party president after his severe defeats by Modi’s Hindu nationalist party in 2019 national elections, though his supporters hope the more recent results will impact the country’s 2024 national elections, which are likely to be held before May.

Gandhi suffered a serious setback in March when a court convicted him in a criminal defamation case for mocking Modi’s surname, a decision that led to him being expelled from parliament. He could lose his eligibility to run for a parliamentary seat for the next eight years if an appeals court doesn’t overturn his conviction. The conviction came in connection with a speech he gave in 2019.

Gandhi, who is not related to Mahatma Gandhi, also invoked the assassinated Indian leader’s name several times during his speech, praising his model of non-violence.

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