The Congress party’s impressive rally in New Delhi to drum up support for Rahul Gandhi after his anointment as party president missed a golden opportunity to concretise and lay out alternative policies to credibly project to the people that a government composed of today’s opposition parties is capable of giving good governance to the country.
Talking in hyperboles and criticising the Narendra Modi government without offering credible practical solutions is no panacea for the country’s ills. Let Rahul face the facts—he cannot hold a candle to Modi in rhetoric. His protestations sound hollow. In the personality cult that has got created around his persona, it smacks of sycophancy that permeates the whole atmosphere.
Congressmen, young and old, may sing paeans to Rahul in a demonstration of subservience but there is no denying that his address lacked coherence and substance. But, it is the power of the Nehru-Gandhi name that despite a string of electoral defeats, he is still the only national leader in the party apart from his mother.
As things stand, he can get through with any reforms without a challenge from anyone of consequence in the Congress party. That his hangars-on have left the constitution of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) entirely to him so that he can pack the highest decision-making body in the party with his men is a big dis-service to him and to the party.
If he were to hold internal elections to elect a CWC, a democratic ethos would get nurtured in a limited way in a party that has seen a systematic suppression of any kind of dissent. There is a good chance that Rahul would then be seen as one who sincerely wants to blaze a new trail.
He must follow that up with setting up sub-committees with a time-bound mandate to come up with sound recommendations on reforms in each area of activity. The committees should be so manned that they come up with practical solutions to problems rather than solutions that sound good but are utopian. Some degree of idealistic thinking may be acceptable in visualising a new India but there should be no going overboard.
Before Rahul points a finger at Modi for non-fulfilment of promises, he must look within and recall how many of his promises from the speech he made to the party in 2013, when he was made its vice-president, he has met in five years even though he had a free run.
In his address to party cadres and supporters on Sunday, Rahul spoke of institutes of excellence (IITs and IIMs) to be spread across the country in much larger numbers than there are today. A working group must go deeper into what other countries that deserve to be emulated are doing and what kind of self-financing models can work in India for the rich while subsidising the poor among the student-aspirants.
A blueprint for action on basic education also needs to be drawn up with emphasis on linking education with a vocational edge to the extent possible while seeking to inculcate a broad outlook among students.
The Congress, under a youthful leader like Rahul, must also have a view on an issue like defence modernisation, which was an area of appallingly deficient performance under the erstwhile Manmohan Singh government. It is all very well to indulge in breast-beating over lack of investment in sophisticated arms and ammunition under the Modi dispensation but why did the Congress party not spend on modernisation when A K Antony, as defence minister, was twiddling his thumb because he suspected that though he was above board, others who were in that dispensation would make hay while the sun shone.
By the same token, we pay a great deal of lip service to agro-based industries to boost the farm sector, but if the Modi government is not doing enough in that direction, does Team Rahul have a perspective on it? Can’t Rahul not put together a team to inject some new thinking on a new home-bred model?
Indeed, Team Rahul must show evidence of fresh thinking if it is to fire the imagination of the masses and convince them that it means business. The cold reality is that Rahul Gandhi’s own understanding of major issues is so hollow that he is ill-equipped to suggest palliatives. In that event, he can study more and engage experts to feed him with the right inputs. But, is he doing that?
Prime Minister Modi has erred grossly in not adequately drawing upon experts and experienced practitioners in various disciplines to run the government with well-thought-out policies, but when Rahul is talking of an alternative, can he not beat him at it? Does Rahul inspire confidence that he can break new ground?
One of Rahul’s bigger challenges would be to strike a worthy balance between the old and the young within the party and to draw upon their skills in the best possible manner. Considering that under the erstwhile Congress dispensation, the biggest blot was the all-pervasive corruption, Rahul would do well to come up with ideas to curb corruption in government departments. If it means creating greater deterrents, so be it. Judicial reforms are the need of the hour and so is there a need for meaningful electoral reforms.
There is a chronic lack of accountability in various walks of life. Nothing can work until we banish the ‘chalta hai’ attitude. To expect dramatic results from a person, who has shown little ingenuity in dealing with the nation’s myriad problems, may be too much. But, if Rahul has to win the support of people at large, he will have to break new ground.
Kamlendra Kanwar is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.