The fourth estate had its field day
after Rahul Gandhi’s speech to the Confederation of
Indian Industry (CII). The print media went to town
about bees and beehives; edit page pieces were on
the confused thoughts of a politically immature man;
and barring CII functionaries and some others, the
general tone was at best one of bemusement, at worst
critical to the point of being downright derogatory.
I didn’t attend the CII annual meeting. Instead, I
read the speech which was available in its entirety
on the net. If you were to ignore the anecdotes
about who he met during a 36-hours journey from
Gorakhpur to Mumbai in the Lokmanya Tilak Express,
the core of Rahul Gandhi’s speech can be summarised
• India abounds with entrepreneurial energy — not
just of industrialists but of the millions who want
to work and better their lives.
• Democracy and technology have created a country
where hundreds of millions are getting politically
empowered, who are straining at the leash to break
their shackles and hasten to attain their
• To leverage this force of youth and empowerment,
we need to dramatically improve our physical
infrastructure — roads, highways, rail, ports as
well as education and healthcare — which can only be
done through public-private partnerships.
• To have such lasting partnerships, both central
and state governments have to create impartial,
professional and rules-based governance systems.
• Exclusion in any form will not work in India — be
it the poor, the tribals, the dalits or the
Such marginalisation is counterproductive. In
contrast, “embracing the excluded is essential for
the wealth of the nation”.
• India is thirsting for a visionary partnership,
comprising the poor, the middle-class and business.
When this is built, it will generate the momentum to
transform the country. Congress is the only party
that can forge this inclusive partnership — a new
business compact as it were.
I am no die-hard fan of Rahul Gandhi, and certainly
do not approve the automaticity of dynastic politics
that bedevils our country. But I can’t find fault in
what the young man said. Was it obvious? Yes. But
does it not sometimes makes sense to restate the
obvious? Was it banal? No, except when it is
caricaturised in drawing room soirees over
pre-dinner whiskeys, as it invariably will.
Could he have been more magisterial? Why would you
expect him to be? Has he been known to be
authoritative, commanding or even silently majestic,
such as his mother? I think not.
So what did we expect of this young man’s speech?
That he would outline a plethora of industry
friendly reforms? Or that he would give a sonorous,
mellifluous, masterly crafted and deeply thoughtful
discourse touching every nook and cranny of public
policy — one that would gob-smack the audience,
which would then give him a never-ending standing
Given that it was his first major interaction with
industry, the press had raised its expectations far
beyond the pale of Rahul Gandhi’s persona. He, in
turn, spoke as he always does. Weighed by its own
anticipations, the press found that he fell short,
and found cause to lampoon him for the bees in his
The speech is over and done with. What matters is
whether Rahul Gandhi can play a role in creating the
milieu that he spoke of. That requires his party to
win anywhere between 175 to 200 Lok Sabha seats in
next year’s elections. It doesn’t matter a whit if
he were to continue a diarchy like his mother, with
a suitable worthy as the prime minister. Indeed, it
may be a good thing if he stayed in the background.
But to play out his vision, his party needs to
substantially lead the next coalition government. So
the question is: does he have the political skills
to deliver the necessary seats? That’s what needs
debating. And it will be the real tough act — not
crafting a speech that all could applaud.
Published: Business World, May 2013