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Rahul Gandhi: India’s Democratic Walk

Learn English with Rahul Gandhi. Indian politician, Rahul Gandhi, delivered a captivating speech at Stanford University, discussing the global shifts and challenges in India’s democratic sphere. In his insightful talk, Gandhi emphasized the critical role of imagination during transformative periods. He elaborated on groundbreaking shifts in mobility, energy, and AI’s profound influence on India. Recounting memories from the ‘Unite India March,’ he expounded on the profound distinction between force and power, drawing historical parallels to underline his message. Join us to dive into a narrative where history and the present converge.

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Rahul Gandhi | Quote

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“Empower everybody, not just one person.” Rahul Gandhi


Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to come and speak to you.

I’ve heard a lot about your institution. I spent some time in one of your competitors.

It’s an honor for me to be here. I’ve been asked to speak about global transition and how the world is changing. And also how one should act through that change. How one should think about acting through the turbulence that is obviously going to come. I heard in the introduction that I was a member of parliament until a few months ago.

I don’t think when I joined politics in 2004 I ever imagined what I see going on in our country. It was way outside anything that I had ever imagined. To be the first person to get a full criminal sentence on defamation, to get the maximum sentence and to be disqualified from parliament. I didn’t imagine that something like this was possible. But then I think it’s actually given me a huge opportunity. Probably much bigger than the opportunity I would have sitting in parliament. That’s just the way politics works.

I think the drama started really about six months ago. We were struggling. Entire opposition is struggling in India. Huge financial dominance, institutional capture. We were struggling to fight the democratic fight in our country. And we decided none of the systems were working. Democracy isn’t just about an opposition party. It’s about a set of institutions that support the opposition party. Those institutions either captured or certainly weren’t playing the role that they’re supposed to play. So we decided to do something quite strange.

We just decided to walk across the country. We never imagined for a second what would happen when we walked across the country. What would happen not just politically, not in terms of the type of response we got, but what would happen to us when we walked across our country. All of us. Started with about 125 people. And it fundamentally transformed the way we think about our country, about our people, about politics, about what is important.

A lot of people ask me, what’s the lesson you’ve learned from this? And for a long time I couldn’t quite say what it was. I couldn’t answer. I’d say, you know, I’ve picked up so much information overload, I can’t really tell you what this has done. It was the most beautiful experience of my life, by far. It was very painful. I had a knee problem. It’s one of those things you get up and you say, okay, we’re going to walk 4,000 kilometers. Some level, it’s a crazy thing to even conceptualize. I thought that would be, I’m reasonably fit, I thought it would be, shouldn’t be too difficult.

I calculated in my mind, I said, well, what’s it going to be? It’s going to be 25 kilometers a day. No big deal. And then I had a knee problem. And then the whole thing, the way life works, everything just transformed itself. We met… what I would best describe as the soul of our country. And very quickly, in a week, 10 days, a silence descended on us. We couldn’t speak. We went from trying to explain things to people. This is why agriculture isn’t working. This is how you should think about education. This is how the health care system should look.

This is what we should be doing. And suddenly, we all went silent. And we went silent because we came into contact with an intelligence that we had never seen, that we had never even conceptualized could exist. Farmers who you would say, many people would say, don’t have an education. And then who are explaining things to us in a way that we just are in stunned silence. And we saw this with farmers, with laborers, with small businessmen, everybody. And so this silence descended on us. And we just sort of stopped talking and started listening. And we heard tales of immense suffering.

I mean, I can think immediately, I thought about one where, which sort of, to me, embodied the spirit of my country, our country. I was walking and a young man came and started walking with me. And I put my arm on his shoulder. And suddenly, I realized he didn’t have arms. So he had no arms. And I tried to sort of make him a bit comfortable. I didn’t want him to feel that I know you don’t have arms. He wasn’t too bothered. And we started talking.

And I asked him, listen, what do you do? And he looked at me and he said, I’m a mechanic. The immediate thing in my mind was, he’s lying. How can he be a mechanic? He doesn’t have arms. It’s impossible. So I said, well, I didn’t want to be direct. I didn’t want to say, you’re lying. I said, listen, what cars do you repair? He says, I don’t repair cars. I repair motorcycles. So I said, oh, yeah? What motorcycle do you repair? And he started listing all the motorcycles. So I said, can I come and see what you do? And he said, yeah. And then he proceeded to take us and show us how he serviced a motorcycle with his feet.

It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life. He took apart the entire engine with his feet. And he put the entire engine back together with his feet. I can’t do it with my hands. So we saw these type of things happening. And we saw clearly the disconnect between our politics and our people. And that disconnect is visible in the United States. It’s visible in the rest of the world. There’s a… huge divide between the people and the politics. Politics is talking about something else. People are talking about something else. We experienced this multiple times.

And as I was walking through this, I kept thinking something puzzled me. What I couldn’t understand is that while we were walking, we had no force. Force was completely on the other side. The other side had police. They had the institutions. They had the media. They had social media. They had everything. And here was this group of people. In a few weeks, it became thousands and then millions just walking. And all the force at the disposal of the government of India could do nothing.

And the more they tried to apply force, the less it worked. And so this puzzled me. I was like, how come they have all the force, they have all the systems, and nothing’s happening? Why, for example, are they just not physically stopping us? And this was a question that just kept rotating in my mind. Why is it that they have the force, but they don’t have power?

And I realized that force and power are two completely different things. Most people, politicians in particular, confuse force and power. And they think they’re the same thing. They’re not the same thing. They’re completely different things. Power is an act of imagination. Power is in the present. It is not linear. And power comes when you go close to the truth. The reason we could not be stopped by force is because we were weaving around near the truth.

And what was really interesting to me was it didn’t matter how much force the other side had. They simply could not transfer that force into power. And they kept saying to us, people will ask us, so when are you going to stop? We’re like, we’re not going to stop. We’re going all the way to Kashmir. No, you’re not going to be able to go to Kashmir. They told me in Kashmir that, look, if you walk the last four days, you’re going to get killed. They’re going to throw hand grenades on you. I was like, fine, no problem. Let them do it.

I want to see… I want to see the person who throws a hand grenade on me. And the security guys, the people from the establishment there, I could see in their face that they just couldn’t understand what I was saying. So this distinction in your life, in your work, is very important. It doesn’t matter how much force the other person has. You can still have power. And it is determined by how close you are and how precise you are with regards to the truth.

Now, you can see these moments. Mine was a very small one. You can see these moments of power versus truth in history. Big ones. For example, my leader, Mahatma Gandhi, fought the entire British Empire. He had no force. They had all the force, all the structures, the army, everything. Didn’t matter. Right? The Declaration of Independence here in the United States, again, a moment of power, a moment of truth. Doesn’t matter how much force the other person has.

So why am I telling you this? Why am I making this distinction between power and force? And what does it have to do with the transition that we’re facing? Well, the transition we are facing, there are three transitions. There is a revolution in mobility. There is a revolution in the energy system. And there’s a revolution in connectivity, what we call AI and data. These are the three revolutions that are taking place. And they’re going to affect everything. The last time we had a similar transition, a transition of energy, a transition of mobility, we had two world wars. Right?

And it’s in times like that, of great uncertainty, of turbulence, that you need acts of imagination. While I was coming here to Stanford University, I was thinking about it. All the work that you do, a lot of the work that you do, robotics, AI, where was the moment of power? The moment of power was when President Kennedy said, let’s go to the moon. Right? That was not an act of force. That was an act of imagination. And from that, a lot of the work you do has emerged, evolved. And that’s the type of relationship the United States and India should be thinking about.

A relationship that’s based on the true reality of our people. We know in India a lot about the reality of our people. All of you know. You live in our great country. You know the levels of poverty that we have. You also know the amazing amount of skills that we have. The United States has the world’s cutting edge technology. We already have a bridge between us. It’s important that this bridge is not simply a bridge based on force. But it’s a bridge based on the reality of our people, on an understanding of the realities of both our people. India has some huge advantages.

In a data-centric world, we have one of the largest pools of data. You over here are a testament, many of you, to our skill in technology, in software. There are many more young people like you back home who don’t have the opportunity you had, who could augment our capability. So that’s what I wanted to leave you with. I think there are difficult times, but there are also times of opportunity. I think there are times when acts of imagination, as I called it, acts of true power, will resonate and can transform the way we think of ourselves.

Thank you.

Rahul Gandhi