Vision means more than victory
The day I complained in my column that Rahul Gandhi, Congress Vice-President, had not given any clue to the people of his country about his thoughts...
The day I complained in my column that Rahul Gandhi, Congress Vice-President, had not given any clue to the people of his country about his thoughts on a myriad issues confronting the nation, he addressed corporate honchos at the FICCI, as though he was answering my call. A few days after Rahul presented his idea of India, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, not one to lag behind, addressed the FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO) to unveil his vision of Bharat.
Whether it would be Rahul versus Modi or not in 2014 elections, both represent two philosophies and two worlds. They are as different as chalk and cheese and the contrast goes beyond the secular versus communal, arrogant versus polite or autocrat versus democrat arguments. There has been a hype and crescendo to launch Modi on the national stage. There was no such need for Rahul. He has almost arrived and his party has been waiting with open arms.
Rahul came through his performance as a prince who was questioning the very rationale of a kingdom. While the country was expecting some answers from him he went on shooting a slew of questions at a skeptical audience and millions of TV viewers across the country. When an industrialist asked him to comment on Centre-State relations and their impact on growth, Rahul spoke about hundreds of pradhans (sarpanchs) in his constituency. He stressed on devolution of powers to panchayats. What he said was very important and a matter of great concern, but it was, perhaps, a right answer to a wrong question. He looked as though he was not concerned with the immediate policy concerns. He seemed to be in search of long-term answers.
His obsessive focus on the structural gaps in the system was well-intended. The gaps are real and nagging. He spoke of rights of the citizens and the limitations of the politicians. But he, at times, sounded amateurish. He seemed as though he was yet to come to grips with the complex problems. Maybe, his search for answers is not yet complete. But he has been making an earnest effort to know the answer. That's for sure.
Rahul did not have a normal childhood. He lived his early years in a security cocoon after the assassination of his grandmother and father within a gap of seven years. Ever since he entered politics, he has been trying to discover India, like his great grandfather, in his own way. He was traveling to remote areas, sleeping in Dalit dwellings and engaging the youths in a genuine attempt to make up for the lack of experience that natural childhood and growth would have provided.
In contrast, Modi was born and brought up in poverty. He played and fought with children of his age and went to the school at the street corner. He came up the hard way. He worked as a chaiwala. His engagement with the grassroots India has been organic. He is a practical man.
That was obvious when he answered questions from some of the ladies at the FLO meet. He emphasized the need for empowerment of women through right to property. If women have to become successful entrepreneurs, they should have the capital which means bank loans which, again, are available only if you show collateral security. If women have properties in their name they can show properties as collateral. Simple and straight. That means a lot to women.
While empowerment through assertion of rights and development by devolution of powers seems to be Rahul's concept, entrepreneurship and competition in the market is Modi's way. We have to wait for one more year to know which of the two will be at the helm or if someone else would get the mantle or the present dispensation will continue even after elections. Modi and his modus operandi are fairly known by now. He has been chief minister for more than 10 years and has many accomplishments to show although the State he has been ruling over has not been doing very well in many of the human development indicators.
It is Rahul who has to be studied and understood because if the Congress manages enough number of seats to continue in power there would be no problem for Rahul to take over the reins if he so wishes. The same cannot be said in the case of Modi. Even if the NDA manages to cobble up a majority, Modi has to beat Advani and Nitish Kumar before claiming the crown.
The opinion poll results announced by 'Times Now' on Tuesday clearly showed that while the Congress is going to lose heavily if elections are held now, the BJP is not going to gain enough to get into office. The non-Congress and non-BJP parties are going to make it big. Since they cannot agree on any one among them to become prime minister, the prospects are more worrisome than the present situation with all the trappings of policy paralysis, unabated corruption and deserting allies.
But the Congress has more scope to recover than the BJP which is yet to set its house in order. The BJP is divided vertically on the question of Modi as the prime ministerial face. The Congress, though unpopular, has no dissensions to bother. The First Family is sitting pretty at the top and everything is well with the party.A If the Congress can get its act together in AP and UP which gave it a good number of seats in 2009, and regain power in Karnataka, it can hope to do the miracle of making a hat-trick. It was given 33 MPs by AP and 21 by UP in the last elections.
The survey commissioned by the TV channel has given the Congress party 8 in AP and 6 in UP. That means the party would lose 40 seats in the two States. Though there are many points in the survey results with which one would disagree, no one disputes the fact that there is room for improvement for the Congress if it is prepared to carry on corrective measures honestly.
The way Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy has been going about his campaign in the State promising everything under the Sun to the poor is likely to be unproductive. Firstly, the welfare measures that are necessary to give sustenance to the poor should not be overdone. Chief Ministers like Kiran Reddy have been making promises right, left and centre without pausing to think whether the doles being announced could be delivered properly. 'Amma Hastam', the latest mantra for success being chanted by Kiran Reddy, is difficult to implement.
Manda Krishna Madiga is going to bring lakhs of old people to Hyderabad on the 28th to protest against non-payment of old age pensions. Because of a weak and indifferent delivery system, the pensions could not be paid. When the government cannot implement the welfare schemes which are already on the board, what is the point in coming up with new schemes? The desirability of giving freebees is not being questioned at all. The Chinese adage that it is important to teach a poor and hungry man how to fish than giving a fish freely is forgotten. Sharad Pawar, chief of the NCP, had the guts to find fault with the NREGA, the welfare scheme that is considered close to Sonia Gandhi's heart, and the Food Security Bill.
The real criticism of the welfare measures and many progressive Acts brought in at the initiative of Sonia Gandhi is the lack of any review mechanism. There has been no reappraisal and corrective mechanism. The UPA president was largely responsible for the RTI Act, thanks to activists like Aruna Roy. But she never asked either YS Rajasekhara Reddy or Kiran Reddy what kind of persons they nominated to implement the Act. She was not seen conducting review meeting to know if NREGA has been yielding the desired results. She is essentially a status quoits. She wants to run the party till Rahul gets bold enough to take full responsibility.
Rahul has correctly identified that the Congress, like most other political parties, has become an oligarchy. He has been talking about reforming his party from within. He was candid enough to accept that the party high command has not been allowing democratic elections of office-bearers. He brought a fresh breeze to the Youth Congress whose leaders at the State level are elected and not nominated. Sonia was not able or was unwilling to take up this gigantic task of reforms.
If Rahul can pick up the threads from where his father had left and work ceaselessly during the months left for elections, he has every chance of catching the imagination of the people of this country and create history. What he did in Kerala on Tuesday he has to do all over the country in the days to come.
Rahul interacted with elected representatives of civic bodies at the Kerala Institute of Local Administration at Thrissur. He said that political parties should try to adopt decentralization as a key organizational concept to ensure that they reflect the will of the people at the grass roots level. A He also addressed a gram sabha arranged by a nearby village panchayat and focused on the importance of decentralized planning and development. That was the dream of Rajiv Gandhi when he slogged for months working on the Bills that led to 73 and 74 Constitutional Amendments.
Like the RTI of Sonia Gandhi, the twin Amendments for which Rajiv was responsible were diluted and made futile by chief ministers, mostly belonging to the Congress. Elections were not held on time on one pretext or another. Powers were diluted in many States. A Ministers were appointed to oversee the districts, making Zilla Parishad presidents redundant. It was a singular failure of Sonia Gandhi as Congress president and chairperson of the UPA. Rahul can make a real difference since he is young and energetic. He is also fired by the imagination.
He has been arguing in favour of devolution of powers and gram sabhas taking the decisions that go into planning and development of villages. That would mean the real empowerment of the people. There will be more transparency in administration, more participation of the people in development activities and less migration from villages to the towns and cities.
Gram Swarajya, as envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi, would, hopefully, be unveiled. Rahul should take advantage of the acceptability he enjoys in the party and strive to implement the two landmark Amendments in their letter and spirit. He would succeed in transforming India and prove to be worthy son of a worthy father.