Rahul Gandhi Takes a Left Turn

August 30, 2010

It is clear that Rahul Gandhi, the "PM-in-waiting" had decided long ago to select a time and place of his own choosing to ascend the throne. And he is definitely not in a hurry to get there. He believes he has several unfinished businesses to attend to, on the way. However, the roads he is taking to get there seems to be taking some curious turns. He is fairly secretive about the road map he is using, so it is not clear if the left turn he has taken recently is a permanent one or is a mere detour.

The turn in question is the masterful speech in Niyamgiri in Orissa where he declared "I am your sipahi (soldier) in Delhi". With this, he was trying to claim credit for the scuttling of the bauxite mining project by London based Vedanta Group (of Anil Aggarwal) in the land that belonged to the tribals living there. I do not have much knowledge of the region, nor the extend to which this project would have affected the tribal people there. Obviously, their protest could not be ignored as a result of which the Environment ministry deemed the project untenable. It is of course important for the country to temper the industrialization overdrive and pause to see its effects on the environment when required, lest we go the China way. The environmental effects of such a blind industrialization drive in China is clear for every one to see.

What is curious in this whole episode, and perhaps dangerous for India, is the garb that Mr. Gandhi decided to wear as the protector of the poor. The tone of his speech had a certain anti-wealth ring to it, which was disconcerting. I am not saying that in a country where 300 million people live below the poverty line, the PM should be pro-rich. But, I fervently believe that one of the big reasons why independent India resigned to its Hindu rate of growth until the 1990s was because it was decidedly anti-wealth. Notice how many Hindi movies in the 60s and 70s used to have the Bania or the rich industrialist as the arch villain in a social drama. That was a reflection of the times. You don't see them anymore in Hindi movies. The people of India have moved on.

Growth comes from the urge of people to do better for themselves and the opportunities that come about as a result of that pursuit. The wealth that one seeks to create in that pursuit is what drives growth. So, being anti-wealth is in some ways being anti-growth. What Mr. Gandhi tried to do in that speech was to pit the people against a rich company and to say that I am going to protect you from the rich aggressors. This was vote-bank politics at its finest, but could have severe consequences for the country if that thought is institutionalized as policy.

India's PM needs to balance the needs of the country - both in terms of growth as well as the equitable distribution of the wealth that it creates. India has done a terribly poor job of it. Taking a public anti-wealth stand is not the way to right that wrong. In Rahul and Sonia Gandhi's utterances of late, one can see traces of Indira Gandhi's tactical politics which was disastrous for the country. One hopes that the history of the 70s does not repeat itself after we have come this far with economic reforms.

An experienced profesional of more than 20 years. Enquiring into the context of the big issues of the day so as to understand them is a quest I pursue all the time. As Niall Ferguson said "To understand something, you need to understand its history". Hoping to bring some much needed multi-layered perspective into the burning issues of our country and the world by looking at ourselves from the outside rather than from within.
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