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Rahul shows no signs of rejuvenation

 

By Amulya Ganguli

 

The nearly two months of holiday seem to have left Rahul Gandhi pretty much where he was – trapped in the closed space of fixed ideas devoid of any nuances.

If his spell of introspection in the serene surroundings of (probably) Myanmar was expected to awaken awareness in him of the intricacies of a complex socio-economic-political problem, there was no indication of it in his so-called “comeback” speech at New Delhi’s Ramlila grounds last Sunday.

Instead, it showed that he continues to see the country in black-and-white terms where the Congress represents the poor and Narendra Modi the rich. Both Rahul and his mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, seem to believe, therefore, that by repeatedly drumming home this point without any sophisticated reference to related issues, they will help their party climb out of the hole in which it is at present.

In any event, the Congress seems to believe that the voters made a mistake by not understanding the party’s pro-poor thrust exemplified by the land acquisition law and the rural employment scheme, among other things, which underlined the Congress’s policies in favour of the farmers and the daily labourers.

Not surprisingly, when former Punjab chief minister Amrinder Singh was asked a few days ago about the reason for his party’s Lok Sabha defeat, he squarely blamed the media. This attitude is in line with the one articulated by Digvijay Singh and other Congress leaders who claimed in the aftermath of the defeat in the general election that the party had merely lost the battle of perceptions to the BJP.

In other words, it was doing all right except for the fact that it could not communicate its “achievements” to the people. As the speeches of Rahul and his mother showed, the Congress still harbours the delusion that it was – and still is – on the right track and that it will take only a forceful presentation of its view for it to “bounce back”, as its supporters are fond of saying.

In essence, what the speeches at the Ramlila grounds showed was that the Congress will continue on what can broadly be called the anti-reforms path. It was only towards the fag end of his speech that Rahul made a passing reference to the private sector and the business enterprises. Otherwise, the “left-of-centre” Congress is keen to return to a controlled economy where Nehruvian socialism will once again play the primary role.

The only slight genuflection towards the changes of the last 10 years was made by Digvijay Singh in an Economic Times interview where he said that the quality of life of the people had changed because of the “right policies” of the Manmohan Singh government with the underprivileged moving up the “ladder from the poorest of the poor to lower middle class”.

But, he did not clarify what were these “right policies” – were they Manmohan Singh’s emphasis on reforms or Sonia Gandhi’s on populism? If Rahul’s speech is considered, it is the latter for, according to him, the only purpose of the changes suggested by the Modi government in the land acquisition law is to benefit the industrialists who need to be compensated, according to him, for the expenses which they incurred for the BJP’s election campaign.

However, Rahul’s one-track approach completely ignores the question of industrialization. As was clear from his references to Bhatta-Parsaul in U.P., where land was sought to be acquired by the Mayawati government, or to Niyamgiri in Odisha, where an industrial project was contemplated, industries remain his bête noire.

There is no hint in this attitude that he has given any thought to the need for gainful employment which only industries and the associated service sector can provide in the coming decades, or of the penury to which the farmers will be condemned if they hold on to their lands for generations since the inevitable sub-division of agricultural plots will mean lesser and lesser income for the farmers’ progenies.

In the absence of an informed analysis of the problem, or even an understanding of what an anti-industries stand involves, it is evident that the Congress is banking on an emotional approach to an issue which threatens to push India back to a primitive, agricultural past and the flight of capital because the corporate sector will be wary of building industries only in deserts and wastelands, as the Rajasthan Congress president, Sachin Pilot, suggested in a television programme.

Such an outlook may present immediate dividends to the Congress and also parties like the newly-formed Janata Parivar by portraying the peasants as the innocent victims of rapacious industrialists in cahoots with the Modi government. For years, this “Do Bigha Zameen” phenomenon of the exploited farmer has been the staple of fiction and films.

But, a stance based on an idyllic portrait of the countryside coupled with the machinations of land sharks portends a dismal future for India in the age of liberalization and globalization. It threatens to undo whatever progress has been made in eliminating the feeling of doom and gloom which enveloped the country in the twilight years of the Manmohan Singh government and in making the world believe today that India can overtake China in terms of the growth rate in the near future. (IPA Service)

 

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