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    Of Bees and Elections    

Omkar Goswami


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 thus:

• 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 aspirations.
• 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 women.
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 applause?

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 bonnet.

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


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