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'Rahul Gandhi is making the biggest mistake'

Last updated on: May 23, 2011 10:11 IST
In the first part of his interview, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president, Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi think-tank, had spoken to Rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt about the 2G spectrum scandal that has besieged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his government, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi and other issues.

  • Part I: '2G: The PM did not present a plausible defence'
  • In concluding segment of the interview, Dr Mehta speaks of his disappointment with the crop of young MPs and where Rahul Gandhi's campaign has failed.

    How do you see the emergence of the youth factor in Indian politics?

    There are young voters and there are young leaders. What will be the young voters's choice depends on the selection that they have. In Bihar, young voters have gone for Nitish Kumar. In some other places they may go for the Congress or any other party.

    It was a mistake to think that just because they are young they necessarily think differently.

    I must say one more thing. It must be said categorically that the biggest disappointment of the last two years has been our crop of young MPs. They have shown much less character and initiative than you would have thought. Their record in Parliament is least impressive.

    Their ability to take a stand is just absent. There are some exceptions like Ajay Maken writing that letter on the caste census to the prime minister. Contrast today's young Congress MPs with the lot that the Congress had in the early 1970s. In fact, the Congress had a group called the Young Turks which eventually rebelled: Chandra Shekhar, Asoka Mehta and others.

    If the youth who are in the structure of power are still not making any tangible difference, then why would the youth outside of it connect with them?

    What failed Rahul Gandhi in the Bihar assembly election?

    I think Rahul Gandhi is making the biggest mistake in thinking that political mobilisation and outreach can happen independently of your record in government. That somehow you can be a big national leader without taking a clear public stand on the major issues of the country.

    I think lots of people are disappointed that in view of the political momentum that he had, he has not leveraged that political momentum to add to his credibility by taking a stand on the big issues of the day.

    The second mistake is no less important. Look, politics is not all about just sentiment. 'Hi, trust me, I am a good guy.' It doesn't work like that.

    Politics is also about local knowledge, knowing and talking about local issues. It's very clear that in Bihar they (the Congress part) spectacularly misjudged almost everything on the ground.

    Third, I think, essentially Rahul Gandhi is consistent on few narratives. There is a boring consistency in his speeches. That's the Bharat versus India theme. There is nothing wrong in talking about an inclusive society. But there is nothing aspirational about it. That came about very clearly in the Bihar elections.

    The Congress talks about NREGA (the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). But NREGA is not a good definition of the Indian people's aspirations.

    What was Nitish Kumar saying? He said I want to expand your aspirations. The bicycle became a metaphor. He said you will participate in change. He was not giving handouts of the State. I think (in Rahul's speeches) there is an extraordinary lack of ambition that could unleash the people's aspirations. That is what one would expect in young leaders.

    Do you think Rahul Gandhi would become a good prime minister?

    I think it is very hard to say. I would say that we just don't know enough about him to feel confident. It is very, very mystifying that somebody who is a potential prime minister of this country and someone who is such a prominent leader in such a big political party lacks clear public engagement on the big issues of the day.

    Dr Singh's economic advisor Raghuram Rajan wrote about crony capitalism in his book. There are no two views that the 9 per cent growth is truly changing India, but then the crony capitalism that accompanies it is also a reality. In view of it, what is your view on India's growth? Where is India heading?

    It is working at many levels. There is absolutely no doubt that there is a consumption revolution. And there is the revolution about entrepreneurship. The people's aspirations are expanding in both these dimensions.

    To give you a lighter example of one measure of change, let me share what an IAS officer told me. He said in old age there was a marriage market that decided how and why certain boys are desirable.

    In Gujarat it is now said: Fixed income, not interested! Let us put a positive spin to it. The entrepreneurship is at all levels of society. There are now the small town entrepreneur, there is now Dalit capitalism. That dynamism is widespread. Lots of innovations are going on.

    But, on the other side, the State controls lots of things. Look at the fields where there is lots of corruption. Telecommunications is one. Land is the single biggest source of corruption by the State because the issue of 'land use' is controlled by the government.

    The issue is, how do you bring in accountability of the State? The State structure that deals with land is such that honest land dealings have been made impossible. There are no two ways about it. There is crony capitalism, but double-dealing comes through government.

    My big worry in the 'capital' issue is the growing difference between big and small entrepreneurs. Lots of government policies are designed to suit and protect big entrepreneurs. Whether it is the policy for getting credit, overseas loans, power supply or infrastructure, the big guys get preference.

    A small entrepreneur can't build his own infrastructure. He depends on good governance.

    Along with growth we need a regulatory environment to help small entrepreneurs.

    There are other two points also to think about. By any means the Indian telecommunications sector is not at all a disaster. From the consumer point of view it has helped them.

    We have got cheap rates and competition has helped. The flip side to it is since India is a large country, there is lots of competition. The competition is also about cronyism!

    In certain countries crony capitalists can capture the entire system and can even dictate market terms. In India, in spite of the clout of the Ambanis and Tatas, it's very hard to go beyond a point because some other political leader would come up with his own crony capitalist!

    Not because of good intentions, but just due to the nature of competition, there is less scope that the system would be captured by just one or two.

    Which is the deeper faultline in India? The caste divide or the Hindu-Muslim divide?

    The big promise of the Constitution is about what rights people have and what opportunities people have. Should we be independent of what identity we have?

    The baseline is that your rights and opportunities that you have should not be decided by your identity. Both caste politics and communal politics take us away further and further away from those ideals of the Constitution.

    Caste politics was legitimate to an extent that the leaders were trying to bring injustices to the State's attention. The fact is that your opportunities are still structured on the basis of caste you belong to. Unfortunately, the system (reservations) that we created was such that opportunities that you got were more dependent on the caste you belong to.

    The Hindu-Muslim divide is not a theological divide. It is a divide created on the basis of ideology where political parties want to use certain kind of nationalism for popular recognition.

    Common to both divides is that they exercise compulsory identities. These politicians want to see that each Indian can only be the caste that they belong to or be the community that they belong to. They are not emancipating us.

    In political terms, the Hindu-Muslim divide is deeper and takes away a lot from us. I am not saying that the caste divide is not polarising, but there are so many castes and sub-castes.

    The caste divide challenges us, polarises us and poses a question: Are our Constitutional aspirations possible to achieve or not?

    The communal divide has, historically, manifested in much more virulent forms of violence. The big silver line is that after the Gujarat riots there has not been any major riot. But the worrying factor is the news of the so-called 'Hindu terror.'

    Even if it is a slight percentage, it is worrying because it can produce a chain reaction that could reduce the State to impotency.

    I also think that the social distance between Hindus and Muslims have grown in the last two decades. Particularly, in housing and jobs. Muslims are more into self-employment. They are not participating in new institutions.

    This is happening because the State is not seen as a fair and credible player. If you unjustly lock out some Muslims youth they will have a grudge. The State has to be a fair player.

    Another issue is, how do you create a common culture? I would say the good thing is this astonishing debate inside both communities.

    What is happening inside Deoband is outstanding. The debates on Muslim law are also a good sign.

    State power has to be a credible interlocutor and the State should ensure that they don't end up unwittingly strengthening orthodoxies.