Rahul Gandhi is not that knight on a white charger who will rescue India, the Congressvice-president — and heir apparent — made clear to India Inc on Thursday. “If you think there is a guy who will come on a horse charging through and set everything right, that is not going to happen,” Mr. Gandhi told a gathering of top Indian industrialists at a meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
Nor should the people expect any miracles from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he said, a day after the latter — at the same forum — asked industry to keep faith in the government: “If you expect the Prime Minister to solve our problems, it’s not going to happen,” he said amidst a stifled gasp from the audience.
Indeed, Mr. Gandhi — in his marathon 75-minute long interaction — offered no road map, no plan, no solution. He only provided a woolly analysis of the situation in the country, of its many “complexities” that baffled and enraged foreign investors but one which apparently gave Indians an edge when they travelled abroad. He argued that if you can succeed in business in India then you will flourish anywhere, “even on the moon”.
He also made some undiplomatic remarks about China’s centralised hard power, comparing it unfavourably with India’s soft power: as evidence for the latter he cited the popularity of yoga in New York and of Amitabh Bachchan in Spanish nightclubs. China was the dragon, but India was no elephant — it was a beehive, humming with activity.
It was all about unleashing the energies of a billion people, he told industry leaders, not relying on one Rahul Gandhi. In 1991, when he was a student in the U.S., people thought elephants walked on the roads; today, thanks to India Inc, that image of India had changed.
He was critical of government for not having a proper institutional mechanism in it to deal with industry. The system operates informally, where if you are “a friend of Montek [Singh Ahluwalia]” you may be heard, he stressed, adding, “Our political system is not responding [even] to you.”
Mr. Gandhi also regurgitated his pet theories that he trots out on every occasion, whether that is a public rally, party meeting or as on Thursday, at a meeting of captains of industry. The political system is “closed,” it is not responding to the aspirations of the people — whether they are poor, middle class or industrialists, he said. And despite the 73rd and 74th amendment, real decentralisation is still not taking places — Ministers are doing the work that village pradhans should be engaged in. The only new thing, he said, was that he was as concerned about the rich as he is about the poor.
For a man whose party sees him as a future Prime Minister, repeating these grouses in the closing months of a Congress –led government that has been in power for almost nine years at a stretch is brave, especially as it comes in the midst of a sharp economic slowdown. Industry captains might have expected some hope — a follow-up, as it were, to the Prime Minister’s more upbeat speech on Wednesday.
Mr. Gandhi’s interaction was also marked by a studied informality that made the suits gag: after his speech, he offered to answer questions as he paced up and down on the stage. In the end, he did not respond to the two questions posed, on the problems posed by different rules and regulations at the Centre and the States, and the other on whether government, civil society and business could do something about water which had arsenic or uranium in it. Instead, he continued with telling stories about the people he had met on his travels, on the need to devolve power, his experiments with trying to democratise the Youth Congress and his pet peeve — how 5,000 people decide everything in India, and the need to shift the focus from the individual to the hopes and aspirations of a billion Indians.