Suggesting police highhandedness contributed to the Arab spring, Rahul Gandhi made a strong pitch for police reforms as he interacted with street vendors.
Addressing a gathering of National Association of Street Vendors, he also promised to give the common people a direct say in the party's candidate selection process for Lok Sabha and assembly polls in future.
Gandhi also chose the occasion to flag the difference between BJP and Congress seeking to paint the opposition party as only being concerned with growth and not upliftment of the poor.
Narrating an interaction between him and an academician from Peru, the Congress vice president said he was told that it was a suicide by a vendor in Tunisia due to police atrocities, which started the fire.
Latching on to the narrative, Gandhi used the occasion to hard sell his idea of creating a "minimum base" of support for the poor so that they do not live in perpetual insecurity.
"Governments in Tunisia and Libya depended upon the police. The police were suppressing the law. The government could not come to know of it there.
"In India, we have democracy. So what happens in Tunisia and Libya does not take place but here also you suffer. The police suppresses you and you are stressed," he said noting the Street Vendors Bill passed by Parliament aims at giving them minimum protection.
When a street vendor from Badarpur pointed out that even after passage of the bill, the police are harassing vendors there, Gandhi said while the specific case can be solved now, "the main issue is that we will keep hitting here and there as long as we do not to reform the police structure.
"The real solution will not come until we give you rights and brought reforms in the police structure. Reforming police is a big issue. Police reform has to be carried out in a long process."
Gandhi also said he is not in favour of stopping growth to bring right-based legislations.
"Businessmen ask me how can you provide rights without growth. This is true that MNREGA, Right to Food and other such works are possible only if there is growth. We do not have to stop growth. We have to increase growth and open the doors," he said.
"This is the main difference between us and BJP. We also say that growth should happen. They also say the same thing. But we also say that as long as we did not empower farmers, the workers, unless we empower them, India's future cannot shine. We do not want to live in a country where lakhs and crores do not get even basic minimum rights," he said.
With Congress facing a difficult electoral battle in 2014, Gandhi also said "elections come and go. This thinking is deeply ingrained in me, the Congress President, the prime minister and two-three elected leaders of Congress. We are not going to leave this."
Gandhi also touched upon the manifesto-making exercise of the party as well as his primaries experiment to select candidates telling the street vendors that long-term solutions to all their problems lie in participating in the decision-making process of political parties and having a direct say in the election of their public representatives.
Gandhi said people do not have a control on MLAs and MPs they elect as political parties do not ask them before finalising their candidates, thereby limiting their choice.
"You cast your vote and then they go away...you get the right of 20 seconds in 5 years, when you cast your votes. You have no participation in the process. Elected leaders in those parties choose the candidates. This happens in all parties, Congress, BJP, SP, BSP everywhere.
"Even in my party, 10-15 people used to pick all candidates in states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In such a situation, the candidate will listen to those who select him rather than you. You have to be given a role in candidate selection," Gandhi said.
Noting that he had seen the manifesto-making exercise in his party for 2004 and 2009 general elections when 10 experts were used to do it sitting in homes, he said people were not asked about the exercise then.
"This time, we have taken suggestions from 5 lakh people. There is a need to change the system. Leaders do not talk about it. You do not have a voice in candidate selection or manifesto. We the young leaders in Congress will do it," he said to the applause of the street vendors.
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