Rahul Gandhi’s anti-reforms stance
The presentation of a wooden plough to Rahul Gandhi at the Ramlila grounds before he began his speech against the land acquisition law was an entirely appropriate gesture by the Congress. It wouldn’t have been right for the party to present the replica of a tractor since that would have signified a modernistic approach to agriculture.
In the Congress vice-president’s view, there is apparently a stark black-and-white division between rural and urban India where the former is at the receiving end of the sinister machinations of the city-dwellers.
The objective of Rahul and his party, therefore, is to protect the peasants at all costs even if it means that they will remain engaged in tilling the soil futilely till the end of eternity.
There is no sensitivity in the Congress’s outlook to the need to enable the cultivators to graduate from farms to factories. This is imperative in order to relieve the pressure on land caused by generations of peasants working on the same family plot, leading to disguised unemployment, fragmentation of holdings and falling productivity.
The Manmohan Singh government made it inordinately difficult for business houses to acquire land in the law enacted by his government in 2013. The land acquisition law of 2013 was a polar opposite of the 1894 land acquisition law which was not favourable for the owners of agricultural land.
However, as the results of the 2014 elections showed, the voters of this country were not much impressed by the populist manoeuvres of the Manmohan Singh-led government.
Similarly, the chances are that the sudden upsurge of vigour with which the heir apparent of Congress is trying to block the Narendra Modi government’s efforts may ultimately backfire. There is also a tacit fear that it is a ploy to undermine the prime minister’s “Make in India” plan, aimed at making the country the manufacturing hub of Asia.
There is little doubt that if Rahul succeeds, it will mean the scuttling of key reforms, the tapering off of investments, the stalling of infrastructural and industrial projects – in effect, a return to the twilight years of the Manmohan Singh government when, under the aegis of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), growth became a bad word, if the NAC member, Aruna Roy, is to be believed.
What is strange is that this is the first time that the Congress wants to turn the clock back to a primitive, agricultural India of bullock carts and mud huts. Yet, industrialisation was the goal of the party’s foremost icon, Jawaharlal Nehru, who said, “dams are the temples of modern India” and his grandson, Rajiv, who wanted to take the country into the 21st century.
Rahul, on the other hand, as well as his mother seem to have little time for these forward-looking concepts and want to take the intellectually simpler populist route of pursuing left-of-centre policies which were formulated by the NAC comprising of crypto-communist do-gooders.
Not surprisingly, their Leftism made them wary of America, which is why the Congress’s 2009 victory was ascribed by an NAC member, Harsh Mander, to the bounties of the rural employment scheme and, more recently, to the massive loan waivers whereas the general consensus has been that the electoral success was due to the middle class approval of the India-US nuclear deal.
It is doubtful, however, to what extent the Congress’s Left turn will help the party.
Even the dynasty’s loyalist, Digvijay Singh, has admitted that the teeming millions from among the Dalits and tribals are the new lower middle class. Moreover, he said that their mindset has changed, for they now think like the “aspirational” middle class, which means that they want jobs and not subsidies.
It is no secret that these are the people who constitute Modi’s base. What is possible, therefore, is that Rahul’s anti-industries tirade will further strengthen this group of the prime minister’s supporters.
Besides, the Congress itself may seek to distance itself from Rahul’s assault on the private sector not only because it can lead to the drying up of corporate funds, but also because it is extremely difficult to erase an anti-industries image once it takes hold of the public mind, as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is finding out.
Considering that even the communists say nowadays that foreign investment is welcome if it encourages employment and brings in new technology, Rahul can be said to have exposed his immaturity by turning more Left than the Leftists themselves.
There are two reasons for the farmers’ suicides which the politicians are so eager to exploit – neglect of the agriculture sector and the slow pace of industrialization. If more and more cultivators can be weaned away from subsistence farming and are able to secure gainful employment in the urban sector, much of their problems will be solved even if the politicians will then have to hunt for a new “cause”.