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Too much passion, too little substance in Rahul Gandhi's CII address

At a time when India's economic growth is at its lowest point in a decade and businesses are facing the heat of a downturn, the Congress Vice President presented some broad-brush solutions to the country's problems but did not miss the opportunity to praise his party and the initiatives taken by the central government.

twitter-logoManu Kaushik | April 5, 2013 | Updated 08:54 IST

Manu Kaushik
Manu Kaushik
At a time when India's economic growth is at its lowest point in a decade and businesses are facing the heat of a downturn, Congress party Vice President Rahul Gandhi's address at the CII's Annual General Meeting and National Conference 2013 was an eagerly anticipated affair.

Gandhi, 42, was called to present his economic agenda to the captains of corporate India. The message in his 28-minute speech to that audience was that the government cannot solve all the problems that beset the country. "If you expect Manmohanji to solve your problems, then keep expecting. You people have to take the lead and create jobs. The government's job is to improve the playing field and provide a rule-based, impartial governance system."

Although Gandhi's speech was scheduled to begin at 10.45 am, the venue, New Delhi's Ashok hotel, was filling up by 9 am.

Clad in a white kurta pyjama, Gandhi made his address amidst tight security. He began by explaining the changing image of India over the years. He said that when he was studying in the US in 1991, nobody took India seriously. "People used to laugh at us. But the situation has changed now."
Referring to notes on a piece of paper, he then talked about the huge migration across the country and how there is a need to channelise the ideas and dreams of these migrants in the right direction.

He briefly mentioned the need for infrastructure, road connectivity, ports and power before finally moving on to his pet topic of empowering the poor.

The session was attended by the who's who of the corporate world. Among those in attendance were industrialists Adi Godrej, Sunil Mittal, Rahul Bajaj, Shivinder Singh, S. Gopalakrishnan and Naveen Jindal, who is also an MP. Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and the Prime Minister's advisor on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovation, Sam Pitroda, were also present.

Moving on, the Congress party leader criticised the country's prevailing education system. "A large part of our education is based on defunct ideas. The problem with our universities is that they are working in silos and not connected to the industry."

Between presenting some broad-brush solutions to the country's problems, Gandhi did not miss the opportunity to praise his party and the initiatives taken by the Congress-led central government. "Congress is inclusive by design. Poor people have a problem of identification, which is being tackled by Nandan (Nilekani, UIDAI chief)."

The speech was followed by a much-longer Q&A session, though there were just two questions asked. The first, by Ajay Shriram of DCM Shriram Consolidated, was about the equation between central and state governments. Gandhi responded by saying that it all boils downs to how much power is given to people at the local level. "Our political structure is not designed to include pradhans in policy decisions. The pradhan is the person who is connected to the people in villages. Why does the smallest decision have to be taken by the senior-most person? We need to build architecture to enable pradhans to develop policy at the lower level."

The only other question was by Dhruv Sawhney of Triveni Engineering, who asked the Congress leader how India's water and waste water problems could be solved. Gandhi did not really answer the question. Instead, he blamed political parties, including his own party for not addressing the country's problems. Pacing up and down before a rapt audience, Gandhi said that when it comes to selecting MLA and MP candidates, all the political parties together have just about 200 people deciding which people will become MLAs and MPs.

More animated by now, Gandhi said that Indians have a tendency to talk about individuals. "Many people predict the probability of me becoming the prime minister, when I will get married ... All that is irrelevant. It is not important what I think, it is important what a billion people think. We are more powerful than we think."

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