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The irrepressible Subramanian Swamy tweeted at Rahul Gandhi’s first major attempt at public speaking: “First he confused a piling of cow dung as a mountain of corpses. Now he says Rani ki Jhansi. As Prof. I say: write 1000 times Jhansi ki Rani!”
That bloomer, coupled with a string of confused metaphors, saw the social media quickly give the thumbs down to #PappuCII, a fact even television anchors were forced to admit. The stoic praise from the captains of industry and the valiant defence by fellow travellers (all the king’s horses and all the king’s men) could not salvage the mess.
If the Confederation of Indian Industries’ annual conference 2013 was intended to serve as the Amethi MP’s rite of passage, his chance to prove himself at par with the overpowering oratory of the Gujarat Chief Minister, it was simply not meant to be. However kindly one puts it, Rahul Gandhi failed to impress as a potential prime minister despite an ambitious 80-minute speech cum interactive session with a carefully chosen audience.
Doubtless it was a vast improvement on the ‘politics is in your pants, it’s in your shirt’, which left even the most dogged loyalists nonplussed. Even so, either the speech writers did a shoddy job, or Gandhi undid their efforts by improvising, as there was some coherence in the portions he read out as opposed to his extempore efforts.
But coming amidst the worst economic slowdown, with industry unhappy over paralysis in governance and decision-making; citizens anguished over crony capitalism, rampant corruption and governance equivalent to a scam-a-day; jobless growth; tax not collected from the super rich; deteriorating law and order; and runaway price rise and inflation, the speech failed to satisfy any section of society.
Politically, it was in the wrong language and eluded the vast majority of the non-elite, while the middle classes sniggered in contempt. Recall Narendra Modi’s choice of Hindi at the victory rally in Ahmedabad after winning the election last year, and again in Delhi at the elite Shri Ram College of Commerce. Recall young Akhilesh Yadav fielding questions in English from television anchors with savvy replies in Hindi. But Rahul Gandhi, like his mother, has poor articulation even in English, hence his grand coming-out speech failed to impress the wider national audience.
The post-speech ‘Operation Salvage’ hardly improved matters. Denying that Rahul Gandhi’s charge that one person riding a charger cannot solve the nation’s problems was a dig at his putative rival, Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said that had this been so, Gandhi would have referred to somebody riding a bhains, a bull, but since “Rahulji has talked about somebody coming on a horse, he must be referring to a messiah.”
This unsubtle attempt to equate Narendra Modi with Yamaraj (god of death, king of Dharma) fails on several counts. While bhains (buffalo) is indeed the vehicle of Yamaraj, Alvi’s explanation of the animal as ‘bull’ is wrong; bull is the vehicle of Mahadev, so does Congress equate Modi with the supreme Hindu deity? Finally, the Gandhi scion should know that the rider on a charger has no resonance in Hindu tradition; it is a Christian notion, drawn from the Crusades and the attempt to wrest Jerusalem back from Islam. Given the party’s desperate dependence on the Muslim votebank, there could not be a more unfortunate allusion to the religious affiliation of its top leadership.
Rahul Gandhi’s speech was equally divorced from the Indian ground reality. He flattered the corporates saying they have generated a huge mass of energy that has taken the nation and the world by storm, adding, “No one can stop this tide of Indian aspirations. Our job is to channel these aspirations properly by empowering the people. That is possible only if we provide the infrastructure that can create jobs as well as create the conditions for the entire country to prosper”.
However, there has been more than a decade of jobless growth and unmet aspirations. The second contradiction is Gandhi’s admission that when he met a poor family in a remote village, with two children who wanted to become IAS officers, he told them, “boss! this isn’t happening”. Yet children of manual labourers have studied hard and topped the IAS or IIT entrance exams, and have been helped by middle class Indians to realise their dreams. But this man from a family and party that has failed the nation on virtually every count feels no shame crushing the dreams of a poor family by saying India still suffers from a paucity of schools!
He thinks Indian corporates will build the infrastructure that is the responsibility of the State, viz, roads, power, everything: “They (the corporates) must lead the charge to take India towards all-inclusive prosperity”. No wonder they clapped at his inanities; he wants to put the national exchequer in their hands!
Gandhi is baffled by villagers from remote places taking the train to Mumbai or Bangalore to eke out a living and sustain their families. He is unaware that these would mainly be marginal or landless farmers forced to migrate seasonally because the State has failed to sustain local agriculture by ensuring year round water supply and providing good seeds and fodder for cattle. Gandhi belongs to the class of rootless intellectuals who despise small farmers who feed their family and village and do not come to the market. India’s agricultural policies seek to crush the small farmer for the benefit of the large corporates.
There was oodles of jumbled rhetoric about the poor, women, minorities and dalits who must be brought within the fold of inclusive growth and provided with voice, but only by the Congress party and its top-down approach in partnership with rich corporates and government-backed technocrats.
Gandhi’s vision is of government working in partnership with a coalition of the poor, the business class, and the middle class. This is a four-fold structure; hence, he should have upheld the values of the varna system and promised to work for a system where politicians cannot abuse power to accumulate wealth and business cannot misuse wealth to pervert the polity. Just reining in the crony capitalism that is the hallmark of the Congress-dominated UPA would unclog the system and give the middle class and the poor the freedom to realise their dreams and aspirations.
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