Rahul Gandhi’s trip to the United States of America where he interacted with political and business leaders, students, and Non Resident Indians is being largely seen as a success. It has been universally admitted that the young leader spoke with clarity and honesty seldom seen in politics. He was reflexive of mistakes and had a clear vision for the future of his party, showing his willingness to take the mantle of its leadership very soon. Through his speeches and interactions key themes emerged about the ideology of the Congress party. Some of these are discussed here, with excerpts taken from his speeches and interactions at University of California, University of Princeton, and Times Square (address to the Non Resident Indians).
“Some people view India as a geographical construct. They view India as a piece of land. I don’t view India as a piece of land. I view India as a set of ideas. So for me, anybody who has the ideas that make up India is an Indian.”
“India is a massive country. It is also one of the world’s most complex countries. Every time you think you have understood India she will reveal something new to you. In fact, I would venture to say anyone who thinks he understand India is a fool. According to most western academics and intelligence agencies, in the middle of the last century, India was supposed to fail. We are 29 states covering every religion in the world. We have 17 official languages and hundreds of different dialects and a terrain that runs from the Himalayas all the way to the deserts.”
Rahul Gandhi spoke on India not as a mere geographical construct but a set of ideas and argued that anyone who has the ideas that make up India is an Indian. This is an interesting line of thought that not only recognised that India’s biggest strength is its pluralism in language, culture, and religion but also acknowledged that in these technologically and conceptually well connected times, country’s limits cannot be confined to its borders. He also revealed that India remains a resilient democracy not despite but because of this diversity, an idea especially pertinent in today’s time.
IITs, IIMs, ISB, excellent top level. But, no scale of that quality. So, a large number of states having education systems, which are not really doing their jobs… I can tell you states where the public school system is doing superb and there are states where it is doing badly. And each state has its own small ecosystem.
When India built the IITs, the entire world, including many in India, were highly critical of the idea that a poor country should waste money on such technical institutions…Today these IITs and other higher educational institutions in India play a central role in Silicon Valley, in the global progress of technology.
Our education system is a 20th-century education system. It’s an industrial revolution education system. So, we have spent quite a lot of time thinking about how the 21st-century education system will look. I think it will be centered much more around concepts than around subjects.
US universities are networks, knowledge networks. Information travels within them, they are connected to businesses, they are connected to economy. Our IITs are tremendous institutions but they are not networks. If we connect our IITs to our industries and businesses across the world, they will start to compete with the best businesses in the world.
When speaking about education Gandhi maintained a balance between speaking of India’s achievements in the form of setting up of IITs and other world class institutes and regret at poor public education systems in some states. He lauded the achievements of Kerala but warned against painting all the states of India with the same brush, demonstrating acute understating of regional disparity and differences in education. He also linked the idea of education to knowledge sharing and information management that he argued will be the strength of the country. He stressed on the need for educational reforms: pertinently a move towards conceptual clarity and engagement with subjects. Most importantly he correctly diagnosed the main issue – that India is not spending enough on education and health care.
Same on healthcare. Excellent healthcare at the high level, but if you go to a state like UP, and you are a poor person, and you want medical help… (Nodding no)… My sense is we are not spending enough on education and healthcare.
Healthcare is going to transform…India has the world’s second largest population. We do very large number of surgeries, heart surgeries, eye surgeries, we have a great understanding of how to do these things. There is a huge opportunity for India in healthcare and we can become the healthcare centre of the world but we have to plan for it today. And I am not talking about simply health tourism, I’m talking about constructing whereby in the future large parts of medical processes are acrid out in our country.
Gandhi recognised health, as education, operating on a dual plane – on one hand he argued that India leads the world in most advanced surgeries, and has great opportunity and potential for developing its health tourism as an industry, he also recognised that still a large number of poor and disfranchised are denied access to healthcare facilities. He also rightly acknowledged that while private healthcare needs to develop and advance in technology, the state has the ultimate responsibility to provide affordable and quality healthcare to the vast majority of its poor citizens.
The central question is how does India give its people jobs? Because on the back of jobs, you can create a vision. If you as a modern country, you are unable to give your people jobs, it’s very difficult to give them a vision…30,000 new youngsters coming into the job market every single day. 450 jobs being provided today. So, you can do the math and that does not include unemployed people.
At the heart of this powerful engine which India has built with its blood, sweat and bare hands since 1947, are jobs and economic growth. No amount of growth is enough for India if it’s not accompanied by the creation of jobs. It doesn’t matter how fast you grow. If you are not creating jobs, you are not actually solving the problem… jobs in India are going to come instead from small and medium scale industries. India needs to turn colossal number of small and medium businesses into international companies. Currently all the attention in India is paid to the top 100 companies.
There are a lot of jobs that will come out of agriculture if you put in things like cold chains if you take food processing units close to farms
Jobs and employment rightly formed the thrust of Gandhi’s speeches given the current crisis in the job market. He not only saw employment as the central driver for growth and modernization of the nation but also linked unemployment to the larger problem of youth losing their vision and hope. He warned against jobless growth. While he acknowledged that initial growth in India has been service led he argued that future growth in job has to come from medium and small-scale industries. This also closely linked with his critique of big business monopoly and links with his vision on manufacturing being led by small and medium enterprises. He also stressed on the importance of modernization of agriculture given that India is largely agrarian, and linking farms to food processing, a sector which has tremendous potential for increasing employment, besides tackling food waste and income poverty.
When I think of the governance system, I would like to see much more transparency in processes. We have a political system in India, but it’s closed… Bringing in other people, making these things accessible to people, to see actually what is going on in the lawmaking process, to make these lawmaking process transparent, that’s a very powerful thing …I spent quite a lot of time working on it internally in the party, particularly in the youth organisations, democratising, holding elections but you get a lot of backlash because that disturbs people. It’s disruptive. People don’t like transparency. Transparency is not easy, but it’s powerful.
So to me, decentralisation is always good in India. Opening up is always good. Giving access to people is always good. Closing access, shutting down structures is not good.
Here Gandhi reiterated his oft explained theme of bringing in internal democracy and encouraging participation at all levels of governance. He has often spoken out against the problem with concentrating power in few hands and has argued for devolution at all levels – which generally ties up with his support of panchayati raj institutions and bringing in bottom up, people led and owned development. Here he also talked about his ongoing efforts to bring about such democracy within the party. Gandhi also spoke about accessible information and transparency in governance structures, ideas essential for a successful democracy and empowered citizenry.
On tolerance and violence:
The idea of non-violence or ‘ahimsa’ as we call it in India is what allows this huge mass of people to rise up together. Uniting India’s religion, castes and languages would simply be impossible without it. It is this idea that Mahatma Gandhi fashioned into a powerful but beautiful political weapon.
Hatred, anger and violence and the politics of polarisation which has raised its ugly head in India today. Violence and hatred distract people from the task at hand. Liberal journalists being shot, people being lynched because they are Dalits, Muslims killed on suspicion of eating beef, this is new in India and damages India very badly. The politics of hate divides and polarises India making millions of people feel that the have no future in their own country.
Historically, India’s historical strength has always been its ability to embrace people and allow them to flourish inside our system.
This was another pertinent theme in all his speeches and interactions given the climate in India at the moment. These remarks were also timely and he brought out the recent lynchings and murders. His ideas about respect for multiplicity of views and opinions and ability to have peaceful dissent ties up with his earlier idea of India as a confluence of ideas with mutual respect and tolerance. Importantly Rahul Gandhi examined the critical understanding of non-violence and ahimsa in a very Indian and Gandhian way – as a powerful and effective tool for protest and transformation.
Overall Rahul Gandhi espoused an idea of India that is tolerant and inclusive. His idea of development seemed to stem from understanding of poverty as multidimensional. His stress on devolution in democracy, danger of concentration of power in few hands or of economy in the hands of few companies, and initiatives being people led and emerging from grassroots will shape the vision and plan of the party as it heads for the elections in two years.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NEWSD and NEWSD does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.