Rahul Gandhi’s speech at a Confederation of Indian Industry (6/4/13)

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Rahul Gandhi’s speech at a Confederation of Indian Industry

Observations from across the seven seas:

The march to gain power in 2014 has started with all sides already entrenched in a political civil war. Nothing is off limits and it seems in India, the wannabe power mongers forget that they are meant to be the very custodians of the integrity and honour of the nation. Their behaviour and how they interact might well be playing to the gallery, but at what cost to the largest democracy on Earth?

So we have it that the emerging reluctant leader from the loins of Indira Gandhi might well now wish to enter the political drama and take the lead role as Prime Minister. In so doing his speech to the Confederation of Indian Industry is bound to be seen as significant. You can’t lead a country if you cannot energise the industries that will be required for nation building.

My immediate reaction to Rahul’s speech is that he really does need a trusted speech writer. Or at least his right hand (wo)man should have the guts, intelligence and a sense of the public mood so that the advice given to him is firm and fair. The following are a few points that come to mind where the impression given is of a person who is confused and not on song with his own core being.

He made a bold statement that him being a PM candidate was an irrelevant question. Frankly if that is the case then he should just declare that he is not a candidate and end the speculation. However if the intent is to run for PM – then an aspiring leader has to command a presence that says – yes I am not only the candidate but I will also win and lead my country. That level of self belief must exist in any candidate if they are to ever convince the voter of the same.

He went on to say he wants the voices of the Billion to be heard. Well who doesn’t? Having said that the question that arises in everyone’s mind is a simple one – has his Party not been in power in India for the majority of the time India has been independent? So is he saying they have made an utter mess of things in the past and wish to have an opportunity to put it all right? If so, where is the apology to the nation for the past failures? You cannot have rhetoric, platitudes and sound bites without having the substance to back up those claims and the aspirations. Rahul needs to come across as a potential leader who understands and accept the past failures, and also accepts personal responsibility with a clear idea on how to rectify.

I was amazed when he said, ‘China is a dragon. India is called an elephant, but we’re not an elephant, we’re a beehive’, given that the whole nation was bound to poke fun by saying his mother must then be the Queen Bee. By not following the train of thought all the way to its logical conclusion, a sound bite might seem great until it unfolds in the media. Now the only thing people remember in a joking way is something about his mother being the Queen Bee. And where there is a Queen Bee – everyone else is but a worker purely in the service of that Queen. It’s what we call in the UK, an own goal.

He also tried to get the sympathy vote by invoking the history of the nation and introducing giants like Mahatma Gandhi, the Buddha, Jhansi ki Rani and even the sacred text of the Gita in the speech. This is important but only works if you show to the masses how it translates to policy and then to action. A party in power for two terms has to show that the ideals it wishes to embrace have been inculcated in everything they have done and provide concrete proof of that with real examples. Failing to do so suggests to the voter that they will say anything to get a vote – and that is a dangerous perception to garner.

Regarding business he went on to say, “When I read papers, the news, the noise stresses me out. It drives foreigners crazy. They ask me why are Indians complaining all the time. India is complex. The West looks at us and says give us simple answers, but we say we can’t because our environment is complex.” In my view such a statement sends a negative view back to potential investors and business folk outside of India. It is the duty of the Government to create policies and institutions such that they rise up and face the emerging challenges. It is the duty of the Government to address these issues – not make excuses or make it look as if it’s someone else’s fault. After all it is his Government that has been in power – so what he should concentrate on are the practical things they have done or will do to successfully attract FDI. Instead a speech with lame excuses does not sit well with potential investors abroad.

India has always been a super power. It has historically chosen not to exercise that power in a negative way. So when Rahul says, “India was an energy, a force which came from rivers Yamuna, Ganga and Saraswati.” Why is it that on his door step under his watch he has allowed for Yamunaji to be so exploited and tarnished? The fabric of the nation, its historical legacy and pride has to be protected by Government. What has the Indian Government done in this regard? When I visit places like France and Italy I see nations who have spent money in protecting their cultural riches. Contrast that with the debilitated state of our historical structures. Where is the nations’ pride when you witness the mass destruction of its majestic past by the negligence of Governments who have done so little to protect it?

The limiting factor for India is its infrastructure, health care, education, sanitation and power. On infrastructure he said, ‘The government cannot build infrastructure alone. We need your (the industry’s) help’. He is totally correct, but it has to be followed by what the Government will do to make life easier for industry to become an active partner in nation building. It is useless if each time an entity wants to do something they are tied up in bureaucratic red tape, and as we have learnt recently – all too often also in corrupt practices. In contrast we see that in Gujarat, a state that had lost its way some 10 years ago, it has found new direction. It has managed to break the cycle of repulsing FDI to the extent that the corporate sector from around the world line up to meet the CM and lend their support in developing the state. If it can be done at the state level, can you imagine what is possible if that same energy, vision and determination is translated at the national level?

So in the end it was good to see Rahul come out and make the speech. Such speeches from politicians tend to be full of rhetoric and platitudes, which is understandable. However there comes a time when the maker of the speech has to show by way of a track record that what he says can be trusted since that is what he can and will deliver. This is where in the case of Rahul the shaky foundations of insufficient ground work of merit undermines the storyline. He cannot escape the track record of the incumbent Government since he is part of that machinery. He cannot abdicate his responsibility of why such overt corrupt practices have not been investigated quickly and forcefully – and we contrast this with the zeal with which CM Modi ji has been hounded over the past decade. Playing politics is a favourite pass time of the shrewd politician, but with that comes the drawback that you will also be judged by the same litmus test. In the age of social media, the Internet, mobile computing and accessible communications – the masses cannot be hoodwinked any longer so easily. The truth has a way of coming out, and in today’s era it will do so faster and with a greater vengeance than it has in the past. Rahul has to take on board the total reformation of Congress so that the baggage of the past can be shed and a new direction of travel is found that resonates with the India of tomorrow. Did Rahul come across as that entity who can take India to the next stage of its development? On the evidence of the speech and past performance – one can only but conclude, not yet.

Kapil Dudakia


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