Rahul Gandhi was in Hamburg last week, addressing the gathering comprising of students of the 2018 batch of the Bucerius Summer School, and some members of the German public who had been invited for his talk. The Bucerius Summer School selects leading public policy professionals from all over the world and invited them to Hamburg for a two-week immersive learning experience on global governance. This year’s cohort had 62 professionals from 33 nations. The investigative journalist who broke the Cambridge Analytica news was a part of the cohort, which also included a senior professional from the International Atomic Energy Agency, a spokesperson of the government of Germany, an economist from the European Central Bank, an advisor to the OECD, a healthcare researcher from Yale University, amongst many other young professionals from across the world. Rahul Gandhi himself was a part of the 2005 batch of the summer school. This year’s event also had Shashi Tharoor and Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi as speakers. Since this was an audience exposed to the complexities of governance, many members of the cohort found Gandhi’s speech naive and disconnected from the realities of dealing with a complex nation such as India.
Gandhi started off by highlighting the problems of social mobility in India. However, it was strange that a fourth generation political dynast, who is the great-grandson, grandson and son of former prime ministers of India spoke to a largely foreign audience on the problems of social mobility in India. Not surprisingly, the rest of his talk was filled with factually incorrect assertions aimed at the Prime Minister of India. Though there is much to be desired on social mobility in India, the legitimate ascent of a tea seller to the highest democratic office of India is a shining example of upward social mobility in India.
Gandhi then drew comparisons between India and China and showed how India took a different trajectory towards growth, with the Chinese path being violent and inhuman. In a way, he defended the policies of previous Congress governments. But India and China not only took different paths but also reached different destinations. Thanks to the socialist policies of governments headed by his family members, China overtook India to the extent that a catch-up may never happen, despite India being on par with China in the late 1980s. China has a larger population than India, and yet their GDP per capita ($81,23, 2016) is 4.75 times India’s (17,09, 2016). Forty years after his grandmother stormed to power on the promise of eliminating poverty with the Garibi Hatao slogan, out of which Congress ruled for 25 years, India still is home to 30 million people living in poverty. And till recently, India had the ignominy of being the home to the maximum number of poor people. On the contrary, China pulled 720 million people out of poverty between 1990 and 2017. There is nothing in poverty to be romanticised about, and to belittle China’s growth as development caused by force is naivety at its best. In fact, if there is anyone in Gandhi’s party who really took steps to stimulate India’s growth and matched up to China, it is the late former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao, who is disliked by and was insulted in death by his party. The humiliation meted out to Rao is so complete that it does not even warrant any comparison with the way the prime minister and his party treated former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in his death. Contradicting himself a few days later at a speech in London, Gandhi said Chinese power structure is decentralised while the Indian prime minister is way too powerful. No one who understands the basics of international politics would even suggest, leave alone asserts, that India’s power structure is more centralised than China.
Gandhi said all governments in India always had the interest of the poor, socially excluded, Dalits and minorities, except for the Narendra Modi government. But he did not list a single policy initiative of this government that substantiates his charge of exclusionism against the Modi government. He followed that with the appreciation for bank nationalisation carried out by his grandmother and hailed it as an attempt to provide credit to many poor people. But when Modi came to power in 2014, 53 percent of Indians had bank accounts. In four years, Modi brought 310 million people from the lower social and economic strata of the society into the financial net thereby increasing financial inclusion to 80 percent. And thanks to the Jan Dhan Yojana initiative, 77 percent of women in India have bank accounts. And when this scheme was launched, the Congress party criticised the scheme, saying the poor people in India need food and not bank accounts. Who says, those being brought into the financial net will be denied food? And who says poor have no right to be financially included?
Gandhi kept emphasising that Modi wants development only for the elite. But the health insurance scheme is all for the poor people. 13.37 crore loans have been sanctioned under the Mudra scheme. Thanks to the #GiveItUp programme, about 2.5 crore women have received LPG connections. Under the Modi government’s renewed push, Indian villages achieved 100 percent electrification and this has been hailed as a great achievement by the International Energy Association. As per the IEA, “the country was already on track to achieving universal household electricity access by the early 2020s, yet Prime Minister Modi has now moved up this target to the end of 2018. This will improve the lives of over 230 million people”. How is bringing electricity to every household an attempt to serve the interests of Indian elite?
Gandhi also said the government scratched a law meant to protect the SC/ST community. But the law was diluted not by the government but by the Supreme Court of India, in order to prevent misuse of the Act. And on the 2 August, the Union cabinet cleared a bill restoring the law against the Supreme Court’s order. As a member of the Parliament, is it right of Gandhi to be deliberately reckless with facts in front of an international audience?
Gandhi also said the money meant for implementing acts like the right to food, right to employment, etc., are being withheld and directed to corporates. On the contrary, this government has made the highest allocations to MNREGA.
He also criticised demonetisation and the government’s implementation of GST and termed them anti-people. But if they were so anti-people, how come BJP swept the Uttar Pradesh elections which were held after demonetisation and also won Gujarat elections in a state that has many traders? Demonetisation and GST are reforms, and reforms are always inconvenient. And true leadership entails imposing decisions which induce pain in the short term but yield rewards in the long term. The truth is, that the UPA government vacillated on implementing GST for years and lost time in reforming the economy.
That brings me to the next point – on Gandhi’s insinuation that Modi is like Donald Trump. Trump is a populist, while Modi is a reformist. Trump does not impose any tough decisions on his people, while Modi does that boldly. Any observer of the Indian political space will agree that the Congress party is India’s populist party. Hence it is not at all surprising that Congress forms an alliance with Hardik Patel, who uses violence and seeks reservations for the most influential and wealthiest community in Gujarat; this is almost like Steve Bannon asking for reservations for white American men.
He also attributed the birth of Islamic State to unemployment and social exclusion in Iraq. I am not so sure which counter-terrorism expert would agree that terror groups fuelled by the Sunni-Salafi-Jihadi ideology is a result of unemployment. Osama Bin-laden was a billionaire. Gandhi should read about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before he draws unsubstantiated correlations to his brutal plans and actions. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi does not want jobs, he wants a fanatically intolerant Islamic caliphate. While unemployment is a serious problem, to say that unemployment will cause people to turn into beasts such as ISIS members is tantamount to painting a dark picture of humanity.
Towards the end of his question-answer session, he spoke about the need to empower women and mentioned that he is trying to introduce the women’s reservation bill. But while the BJP supported the bill in Parliament in 2010, the members of his so-called Mahaghatbandhan were and are still the biggest opponents of the women’s reservation bill. His claim of wanting to empower women sounds hollow when he also supports triple talaq – the right of Muslim men to divorce their wives by merely uttering the word talaq three times. Supporting minority interests is not the same as supporting misogyny within the Islamic community, which has been made illegal in many Islamic nations.
Modi is not beyond criticism and his government has left many of his supporters disappointed. However, India needs substance and depth in the opposition to Modi. The fact is that the people of India have heard everything Gandhi said so many times in the past, and find it far away from the truth. And it is such baseless, factually incorrect and disconnected rhetoric that reduced his party to 44 seats in the 2014 elections, and resulted in the defeat of his party in every election in which he played a key role. Given that the speeches he gave afterwards tied his party and himself in knots, perhaps it’s time for him to introspect why people of India are tired of his poetry, his hugs notwithstanding, and prefer leaders who can govern in prose.
The author is a public policy professional and is currently an Officer on Special Duty to the Chief Minister of Goa. He was part of the 2018 cohort of the Bucerius Summer School, which he, like the other participants of the institute, attended in his individual capacity. The views expressed are his own.
Updated Date: Aug 29, 2018 15:50 PM