Whether the inspiration for donning black came from Mussolini’s Black Shirts is true or not, the Congress Party did wake up a little late to take up the protest against price rise and joblessness. After prioritising protests against the Enforcement Directorate’s questioning of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in the National Herald scam, Congress leaders donning black to highlight the growing misery of the aam aadmi due to a relentless rise in the food and fuel prices did seem like an afterthought. If cynics were to suggest that the black-shirt idea came from Sonia Gandhi, whose Italian father was a foot soldier of the fascist dictator, we would be in no position to either confirm or deny. But it did appear that the Gandhis suffered pangs of conscience; after having ordered the indentured troops to rise in their own defence, they thought the interests of the ordinary people too needed to be safeguarded. Even a cursory look at the National Herald case would be enough to suggest that it was a crude attempt to grab a vast chunk of real estate for purely private pecuniary gains. No wonder the orchestrated protests failed to draw popular support. Why the mother-and-son duo would fiddle with the National Herald trust, when for all practical purposes they alone controlled it anyway, is unclear. Unless the idea was to make it future-safe for the Gandhi progeny by privatising the ownership structure to give themselves three-fourths of the ownership while giving the rest to a couple of hand-picked party retainers.
As for the protest against the price rise we must commend the Gandhis for trying to rally popular support around issues which truly concern the ordinary people. These are difficult times for even the salaried class. Budgets of even the middle-and lower- income groups are stressed due to the sharp increase in the price of basic items such as atta-dal, cooking gas, petrol and diesel, etc. Unemployment is a perennial problem in a country with a low manufacturing base. The two-year pandemic disruption has further contributed to the problem of joblessness, especially in the unorganised sector. A disturbing trend is the reverse migration of people from cities and towns to villages, further increasing the burden on the agri-sector when a modern economy ought to be exports- and manufacturing-led. Thankfully, a couple of welfare schemes such as the MGNREGA and free rations alleviate rural poverty to an extent. Admittedly, global factors largely have exacerbated the inflationary situation, but the government cannot escape blame for failing to fast-track expansion of manufacturing and further opening up of the economy. It is a misconception that “atmanirbharta' will boost local industries. It will only protect shoddy goods at higher prices.
The confusion in policy prescriptions, in the tussle between global and local, is acting as a brake on the manufacturing sector which alone can generate more jobs. The pole position that the Prime Minister occupies in the polity ought to make him heed the former Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya who is all for further opening up of the economy for the sake of higher growth and job generation. Meanwhile, the Home Minister clearly read too much into the Congress Party protests last Friday when he ascribed these to the party’s resistance against the erection of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. We don’t think even the most erudite and aware politician in the Congress Party would have made the connection between the second anniversary of Ram Mandir construction, as the Union Home Minister did, and the day Congress chose to protest wearing black. This seemed rather far-fetched. Only the HM could have thought about that coincidence. Actually, the Number Two in the government ought to be kind to the Gandhis. These past eight years poor fellows are being treated as common citizens when all along they have felt and behaved like royalty. After suffering the “indignity” of being questioned like commoners by the ED, the hitherto entitled members of the Nehru-Gandhi family too had a right to try and burnish their pro-people image by highlighting the growing misery of people owing to near-nine percent inflation in food and fuel. Cut the Gandhis some slack, Mr Home Minister.