Continuing his attack against PM Narendra Modi, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday tried to discredit the electoral mandate won by him by stating that Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi used to win elections as well.
“Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi used to have elections. They used to win them. It wasn’t like they weren’t voting but there was no institutional framework to protect that vote,” Gandhi said in online interaction with Brown University professor Ashutosh Varshney, faculty and students.
Rahul Gandhi tried to draw a false equivalence between democratically elected PM Modi and authoritarian dictators Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi to allege that even autocratic rulers conducted elections to establish their legitimacy.
“An election is not simply people going and pressing a button on a voting machine. An election is about narrative. An election is about institutions that make sure that the framework in the country is operating properly, an election is about the judiciary being fair and a debate taking place in parliament. So you need those things for a vote to count,” he said.
While Gandhi raised aspersions on the legitimacy of the Modi government and insinuated that the institutions in the country are not free to work independently, it is an opportune moment to revisit the time when former Indira Gandhi, dubbed by many as India’s first dictator, had gone to pay a visit to Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi and was admired by Iraqi tinpot autocrat Saddam Hussein. Indira Gandhi is Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother.
Saddam Hussein was a great admirer of Indira Gandhi: Former Indian Foreign Secretary
The former Indian diplomat Romesh Bhandari in an interview with The Hindustan Times in 2003 recollected a meeting he had with Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein when he was posted in Baghdad as India’s Ambassador. Bhandari claimed that Hussein was a great admirer of Indira Gandhi and held her in high regard.
It is important to note here that the meeting between Hussein and Bhandari had happened in the wake of the Emergency imposed in India by Indira Gandhi. In June 1975, Indira Gandhi declared a state of Emergency in India, allowing elections to be suspended and civil liberties to be curbed. Freedom of expression was suppressed and those who dared to denounce the Emergency were summarily put behind the bars.
Mrs Gandhi had also visited Iraq in 1975 when Saddam Hussein was its ruler. According to many reports, Saddam Hussein had picked up Mrs Gandhi’s suitcase during her visit. It is alleged that when she lost her Rae Bareli Lok Sabha seat in the 1977 elections, Saddam offered Indira Gandhi permanent accommodation in Baghdad. Speculations are also rife that it was Indira Gandhi who named Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay.
Indira Gandhi visits Libya to meet Muammar Gaddafi
In the light of Gandhi’s reference to Muammar Gaddafi, it is notable to mention that the former Indian Prime Minister and Gandhi’s grandmother Indira Gandhi had visited Libya to meet with the autocrat leader. In fact, Mrs Gandhi remains the only Indian prime minister to date to have set her foot in Libya.
In 1983, Mrs Gandhi was miffed with the Libyan representative who was in India to attend a seventh non-aligned summit under her leadership. Muammar Gaddafi, the ruler of Libya sent Maj. Abdel Salam Jalloud, his closest friend from their days at the military academy of Benghazi, to New Delhi to represent Libya.
However, during his visit to Charminar in Hyderabad, Jalloud disregarded the diplomatic protocols, abruptly started dancing on the roof of the car. Mrs Gandhi was visibly rattled and furious at Jalloud’s impertinence and the relations between India and Libya took a nosedive. She thought Jalloud was trying to influence Indian Muslim voters
But Gaddafi was determined to win back Mrs Gandhi’s support back. In his attempt to please Mrs Gandhi, quietly sent his second wife and mother of seven of the eight Gaddafi children, Safia Farkash el-Brasai, to New Delhi to apologise to Indira Gandhi for Jalloud’s behaviour and to invite the Prime Minister to Tripoli. Gaddafi’s charm-offensive worked and in less than a year, Gandhi was on her visit to Libya.