By Praful Shankar
Rahul Gandhi’s recent utterances are not only misinformed, they betray an underlying mindset which seeks to keep India in a perpetual state of poverty.
This may be hard for most people to believe today but there was a time when Rahul Gandhi was hailed across most of the political and media spectrum as a political genius.
During the heady summer months of 2009, after a magnificent win for the UPA in the national polls, it seemed as though Rahul was the man who could do no wrong. The Congress had crossed the 200 mark in the Lok Sabha after decades and his decision to go for polls without any allies in UP had resulted in the Congress winning 21 seats (seems a low number now post the Amit Shah blitzkrieg in 2014) in India’s largest state.
The Gandhi scion reveled in the media circus surrounding him and boldly announced his ambitious plans to revive the party in UP and Bihar. For the next couple of years, Rahul went about on his discovery of the Hindi heartland – eating meals with Dalits, travelling by local trains and parachuting whimsically into various agitations like Bhatta Parsaul. And everywhere he went, the media followed him like pliant accomplices, hailing each photo-op as a ‘masterstroke’ or a ‘game-changer’.
It did not take too long for the circus to end. Convincing electoral defeats in Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh punctured the Rahul Gandhi juggernaut even before it began to roll. And once the analysis of Rahul Gandhi began to move beyond superficialities, the Congress vice-president found his political credibility vanishing quicker than you can say ‘women empowerment’. The serious allegations of misuse of influence that continue to circle his brother-in-law Robert Vadra and his comical interview with Arnab Goswami only helped reinforce the point that Rahul Gandhi was not the man India needed as its Prime Minister.
The reason one needs to go into the Rahul Gandhi’s recent past is that it is the best way to put his present bit of theatrics into proper context. What we see play out on our TV sets and in Parliament today has very little to do with any sort of intellectual, moral or political awakening that Rahul Gandhi may have received during his sabbatical. It is the same bit of political theatrics and vacuous symbolism that he has used before.
This is not to say that Rahul 2.0 does not have a few new tricks up his sleeve. Watching him speak in Parliament and studying his views on the range of subjects that he has spoken on, it would seem as though Rahul spent his entire 60 day sabbatical studying old videos of Arvind Kejriwal. If there has been anything new about Rahul Gandhi that has been on display the past few weeks, it has been his unquestioning embracement of the mindless populism and anti-business rants that had come to become the trademark of the Aam Aadmi Party. This could be because Rahul is worried about losing his core voters to the AAP or even because he genuinely shares the AAP’s political ideology. Either way, it is certain than the path that Rahul Gandhi seems to have envisioned for India’s future is a disastrous one.
Let us begin with the more frivolous of his interventions, Net Neutrality. The struggle for a free and fair internet being championed by the Congress vice president is indeed an irony, when you remember that it was just a few years ago that his own I&B Minsiter, Kapil Sibal, was talking about regulating internet content which was hurtful to the Congress’ First Family.
Even so, Rahul’s tirade that the government was planning to take the internet away from the common man and give it to businessmen was comical at best. In his speech, Rahul Gandhi demanded that the government stop the TRAI deliberations immediately. In doing so, the Gandhi scion demonstrated his scant respect for the due process of analysis and deliberation before policy formulation – one of the hallmarks of mature democracies. Perhaps he still thought that Manmohan Singh was still in power and constitutional processes can be circumvented for every whim of a member of the Gandhi family.
The ongoing TRAI discussions had not given any indication that Net Neutrality in India was ever under threat. Even if the TRAI was inclined to take an unwelcome stand, the TRAI recommendations around the subject would not, by any means, be final. The final decision on the matter will rest with the Union Cabinet and considering the fact that the Prime Minister himself has invested tremendous energy and political capital on reaching citizens directly over the net, it was always unlikely that Net Neutrality in India would be in danger. Additionally, public outrage, even before Rahul’s speech, had ensured that proposed deals between net based businesses had been torpedoed.
If the Net Neutrality performance in Parliament was Rahul’s most frivolous, the intervention on the Land Acquisition Bill was the most disturbing. His speech on the subject took more than a leaf out of the Kejriwal Handbook of Political Theatre – full of bluster, mistruths and blatantly regressive.
To begin with, the prevailing agrarian crisis in the country and the Land Acquisition Bill are two different issues which Rahul seems to have rolled into one. The plight of the farmers in the country today is a deep rooted problem which was largely created by the policies of successive Congress governments of the past. After all, farmer suicides did not start in the past 10 months.
In the name of being pro-farmer, the ‘socialist’ governments of the past have created a culture of government dependency across the farming community in India. Indian farmers have not been given access to the latest technologies or been educated about modern farming methods. Major irrigation projects that would have provided great respite to water starved farmlands have been stopped and/or opposed by the very same NGOs which supplied members for Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council. Rahul Gandhi himself is on record saying that the visionary plan of Atal Behari Vajpayee to interlink major rivers across the country was ill-conceived.
In addition to this, the political culture of throwing money at farmer’s problems as a short-term solution was begun and championed by the Congress. A perfect example would be the 50,000 crore loan waiver which UPA-I had doled out to farmers across India just before the general elections in 2009. But farmer suicides have not stopped since then. It would not take a very intelligent man to understand that had that money been spent on irrigation projects, machinery import and education programs, the plight of the farmer would not be so miserable today.
Which brings us to the Land Acquisition Bill. Without a doubt, if the current land acquisition laws in India continue, the Indian farmer will find himself in an even more pitiful condition in a very short amount of time. In fact, the misery would extend beyond the farmer and towards the entire rural population in India.
Without irrigation projects to bring water to his fields and without rural roads to connect him to markets across the country, the Indian farmer will find his farm yields and the sales of his produce diminishing rapidly. Without industries reaching the rural areas of the country, both farmers and other village-residing Indians will find that options for employment for their children are next to nothing in the coming years. Without rural and semi-urban housing in an India with a fast growing population, common Indians will struggle to find an affordable roof over their heads.
And creating irrigation projects, rural roads and affordable housing needs land.
This is a simple fact that one can assume both Rahul and his party would be aware of. This is why the ongoing political drama of creating an anti-farmer, pro-business image of the Modi government and using it to stall projects that the country desperately needs for its development is more sinister than it would appear to be. The plan can only be to keep Indians mired in poverty and starvation so that the economic condition in the country remains status-quo. The Congress realizes that a rapidly developing and urbanizing India would have scant time for the feudal political structures that the Grand Old Party had erected during their 60 year rule.
This is all the more reason why the passage of the Land Acquisition Bill in the current session of Parliament is key for both India’s future and the success of the Narendra Modi government. The sooner the Bill is passed, the sooner will the government be able to kick-start developmental projects and bring some well needed respite to the rural population across the country. Whatever limited public opposition to the bill exists, will evaporate once the bill is implemented and country sees that it is not part of any grand plan to sell the nation off to corporates. On the other hand, the longer it remains in limbo, the more time Rahul Gandhi and the Congress will get to peddle their mistruths and lies.
For the Narendra Modi government, the Land Acquisition Bill has shaped up to be their first major legislative battle. A victory – even through the means of a joint session – would be more than just a victory. It would send a message to the country and world that the government is keen to discard the make-do solutions of the past and look to develop a stronger India in the long-run. It would also send a message to the Opposition – that it will take more than a ‘soul-searching vacation’ and media-fuelled populism to bring the Modi government down.