Rahul Gandhi's interaction with the CII gave a greater understanding of the man who is the Congress's future and possibly the nation’s. He made it known umpteen times, directly or indirectly, during his hour-long speech and the subsequent question answer session that though he is frustrated, driven to nuts by newspaper stories, stressed by pessimistic noises around him and he is a politician by the accident of DNA, he would not waver from the path he thinks is right for him.
"My guys have told me in my conversation with them that don’t go into India-China cliché. But I am not going to listen to them. I am going to talk about it," he said. He brought the India-China contrast with a purpose, to highlight his pet theme of centralization of power versus a decentralized system. He brought in the dragon vs elephant vs beehive scenarios to drive home his point. As against the conventional wisdom, India worked with the power and potential of a beehive where all bees come together to form a hive and deposit honey, he said.
He did not seem to care much about the venue. He was on his own theme, making a logical advancement on his Jaipur AICC acceptance speech. No matter what the questions asked—only two could be asked, one how Centre-state relations were impacting business and the other on water contamination with arsenic and uranium—he would respond with only what he was prepared with. Not surprisingly, he dwelt on devolution of power and "giving voice to people".
So the village Pradhan, the third tier of the Panchayati Raj system, was the hero of his speech. He spoke a number of times on why the poor Pradhan at the village level who is doing a thankless job needed to be empowered and why a closed system be opened for him so that a Pradhan’s voice could influence policy making in Delhi or state capitals.
While going into those details he conveyed a subtle message to the industry captains: that they should not be driven solely by the profit motive and they should also open up decision-making to unsung executives and the other less privileged work force. Though he stressed repeatedly as to how the nation’s future could be secured only in Congress’s hands, he told them not to expect much from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or anyone else to solve their problems. Interestingly, his remarks came only a day after Manmohan Singh in his inaugural address had told same audience to have faith in him.
"If you think Manmohan Singh or someone will solve problems you can keep expecting," he said.
While Rahul’s talk on inclusive growth, reaching out to the poor and the weakest and reforming the closed system offered good debating points, the big question is how has he influenced the UPA government’s policies for the last nine years and if not then why so. The whole of the Congress party was at his command and the prime minister was ever so willing, even publicly requesting him to take a position in the government and change the system from within rather than be a rebellious outsider.
He narrated his long train journey from Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai to convey how much that helped him understand India and popular aspirations. A 25-year-old landless woman in Maharashtra and aspirations of her two children, one of whom wanted to become an IAS and other a businessman, to convey how India had energy and aspiration.
The Gandhi scion, too, has come a long way. He had earlier said that whenever he went out he used to ask to young children what they wanted to become when they grow up and did not get the answers. He is now getting the answers. But Rahul himself is not answering the questions that are being posed to him. He says those questions are "irrelevant" to him. If he chose to answer about democratization of polity and devolution of power on water contamination at CII, he told the audience that "press guys ask about marriage, PM, may be PM, may not be PM….. These are all irrelevant. This is all smoke. The only relevant question is how to give voice to people."
He said he was in politics by accident and his only aim was to empower people. "Boss, you have to be here. I come from a chain of people, the DNA has put me in this situation," he said. He then said Jhansi Ki Rani was considered as hero but she was representative of millions of heroes. "One person couldn’t be all important. I am irrelevant, one among the billion," he said.
That could be taken as a dig on Narendra Modi. Modi has built a cult around himself and to his supporters he is a hero. Rahul wants to convey that he couldn’t change the course and solve the problems the nation has. A collective problem could only be solved collectively. Rahul’s prescription is to empower the voiceless and village Pradhans of Panchayati Raj. Listen and talk to even the worst of enemies.
"The idea of a guy on horse coming and solving the problem" could also be directed at Modi. Unlike Modi, Rahul would not talk in terms of tangible solutions. He is much more philosophical.