The ruling BJP today described as "laughable" the comments of Rahul Gandhi on the Emergency of 1975-77 and his assertion that "institutions were not weakened at the time" like they were being by the RSS today. The Congress leader would "take a long time to understand the RSS", said Union Minister Prakash Javadekar.
"Rahul Gandhi has said that during the Emergency institutions were not weakened. His comments are laughable. At the time, the government suppressed all organisations. MPs and MLAs were arrested. Almost all parties were banned. Newspapers were also shut down," Mr Javadekar said at a press conference.
"It will take Rahul Gandhi a lot of time to understand the RSS. RSS is the biggest school of patriotism in the world," said the Union Minister, referring to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological mentor of the BJP.
Rahul Gandhi made the remarks at a webinar organized by Cornell University. He said the Emergency imposed by the late former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, his grandmother, was a "mistake" and what happened in that period was "wrong".
"I think that was a mistake. Absolutely, that was a mistake. And my grandmother (Mrs Gandhi) said as much. (But) the Congress at no point attempted to capture India's institutional framework... frankly, it does not even have that capability," Mr Gandhi said in a conversation with economist Kaushik Basu.
"Our (the Congress') design does not allow us (to do)," he stressed.
The BJP, whose leaders were among those jailed during the Emergency, routinely attacks the Congress on the controversial years, especially when faced with similar accusations of stifling freedom of speech and the right to dissent.
Mr Gandhi said there was a "fundamental difference" between what happened then and what was happening now which, according to him, was the RSS filling institutions with its people.
"So, even if we defeat the BJP in the election, we are not going to get rid of their people in the institutional structure," he said.
"Modern democracies function because there is institutional balance... Institutions operate independently. That independence is being attacked in India (by) one big institution called RSS... being systematically done...would not say democracy is eroding, would say it is being strangled." he added.