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Rediff.com  » News » Rahul to India Inc: 'We have to carry the poor with us'

Rahul to India Inc: 'We have to carry the poor with us'

April 04, 2013 18:53 IST

What India is thirsting for now is a visionary partnership.

We need to forge a new business compact, a new framework a new framework that responds to the 21st century.

We are a brave, young country. Let's break out of the mode of incremental improvements and get into the mode of generational shifts.

In his first interaction with business leaders after becoming Congress vice president, Rahul Gandhi urged India Inc to work together to build this brave, empowered new India.

Here's the text of Rahul’s speech at the annual general meeting of industry body Confederation of Indian Industry


“It is an honour for me to be here today.

And I would like to begin by telling you why it is an honour for me. There is a tendency to look at India as a country. In our everyday life we see India as a national structure.

But if you go back slightly more than that, go back a hundred, two hundred years, you would find that India is energy, it is a force.

If you go back a thousand years, two thousand years, you would find that force came from our rivers, Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati. We worshiped these rivers and the reason we worshiped these rivers was because that is where our energy came from, and everything we had was built on these rivers. Now we have gone way beyond that.

We have built structures that are allowing this energy to rise, to explode. And it’s an honour for me to be here because as this energy moves from India and goes abroad, you are the cutting edge. You are the people on the first line. You are the people who are our ambassadors. You are the people who tell the world what this energy is about.

Over the last couple of years, you have done a tremendous job. The image of India has changed. I went to University in 1991, and I remember, nobody thought of India. I remember conversations where people would laugh and say, “Do you have elephants on the road?”

Nobody is saying that today.

And a huge part of that is because of you. So I would like to thank you and I would like to tell you that it’s big honour for me to be here addressing you.

I think the way it is going to work is I am going to give a speech and then we are going to have questions.

It was a dark night some years ago when my team and I got on the Gorakhpur Lokmanya Tilak Express and travelled across India's heartland.

We wanted to understand how young Indians were building their future and I spent a large part of the 36-hour journey moving across the train and talking to travellers -- youngsters, weary families, and migrants moving from the dust of Gorakhpur to the glitter of Mumbai; took us 36 hours. It is called an Express!

I remember a young boy from Purvanchal, Girish, who painted the outside of skyscrapers. There were two carpenters, one of them travelling from his village to Mumbai for the very first time.

Imagine the feeling of a young fellow, getting on the train coming out of his village, going to Mumbai. I spoke to a young Muslim boy setting out to start his life. He had no idea what work he was going to do. I asked him, “Boss what happens if you reach Mumbai and there is nothing for you to do?”

“If I reach Mumbai and there is nothing for me to do, I'll get on a train, I’ll go to Bengaluru.” That is the spirit of this country. Forward moving; brave. What struck me about that train was the optimism. These were poor people, weak people but not one of them was pessimistic. They were sitting there, and they were all struggling. And this optimism for me is just like India -- it is bursting with dreams and fearless ideas. Brave ideas.

And as it hurtled towards Mumbai I sat there looking at this train and wondering how many of those dreams would actually be fulfilled.

By the time we reached Mumbai, we had made friends with Girish, the painter. And he told us, come and see where I live. And we thought that’s an interesting thing to do.

We had come all the way from Gorakhpur and we thought let us see what this young migrant is doing. 4’o clock in the morning, we walk off in the galis of Bombay, monsoon season, feet were going into puddles. And then he opens the door. Little room, probably twice the size of the table. Six people sleeping inside. They get up. All of them are migrants. All of them have done that little journey. All of them have that dream.

We had a chat. Very smart fellow. Entrepreneur like all of you, except they had empty pockets. And he says come to the Chaiwala. We go to the Chaiwala. There are five-six of us. And he buys us all tea. That is the spirit of this country. Millions and millions and millions of youngsters, struggling every day, with optimism and the story of Girish exemplifies the idea of empowerment.

It exemplifies the Indian worker, the Indian entrepreneur and as we talk here, a billion people are breaking the shackles. They are coming out. And they are claiming their place in the sun.

India is home to the largest pool of human capital the world has ever known and probably, will ever know. And it is this movement of people, this tremendous movement of people and ideas that is going to define this country in the 21st century. It is this energy that is producing your best managers, it is driving the stock market, and it is the energy providing labour for our factories. It drives the consumption upon which your businesses are built.
 
Democracy and technology have triggered a non-reversible chain reaction in India. This reaction is unstoppable. Nobody can stop it. We have to channel this reaction. We are now sitting on an unstoppable tide of human aspiration, a tide so great that it is going to move forward, regardless of what we do.

But for this massive movement of people and ideas to be truly transformational, we need to nurture it. We need to make it harmonious. We need to make this happen smoothly. We need to use the energy generated by this movement of people and ideas, the force movement is generating, and we need to use it to empower everybody. Not one person, not almost everybody, but everybody.

The first thing we need to do is we need to accelerate this movement. It is our duty to provide India with the physical infrastructure to enable this unprecedented movement of people and ideas. This infrastructure needs to connect India -- it needs to connect Indian villages, it needs to connect Indian cities, and it needs to connect India to the rest of the world.

We have to provide the roads on which our dreams are paved. And these roads can’t have potholes. They can’t breakdown in 6 months. They have to be big roads, because they are going to carry strong people, they are going to carry strong forces. We have to provide the ports from which our ideas will set sail.

We have to provide the electricity for our children that will light up their future. Government cannot build this infrastructure alone. We are incapable of doing it alone. We need your help. It has to be built jointly, and together we will find the models where capital is used efficiently and without delays.

And it is critical that the business environment for the creation of this dynamic infrastructure is stable and predictable.

Secondly, people were not the only things moving in that train. Ideas moved with them. And in the Twenty First century, we need to make ideas move fast. We need to aggressively build the knowledge infrastructure that will support this massive flow of ideas. Together we must ensure that our knowledge, education and skills defines the global standard.

It is not good enough for us to say we want to be like them. They have to say we want to be like India. Certainly we have the seeds of a world-class education system, it’s there, but is small, needs to be expanded. But that alone is not going to be enough.

Today we are mortgaging our future because large parts of our education and training are based on defunct ideas. Ideas that are no longer relevant. The reality is that a lot of the youngsters on the Gorakhpur Lokmanya Tilak Express were not trained and so are quite difficult for you to employ. You understand this best because you spend enormous amounts of time and money, hard earned money, to train them.

Our problem is not joblessness, it is lack of training and skills.  Why should a mother lose sleep at night worrying about whether her brilliant child will find a school to go to?

Why is it that a degree from Harvard costs the same as the capitation fees of a medical college in Lucknow?

Why are our students forced to study obsolete things?
 
I am a pilot. I learnt to fly in the United States, I came back. I wanted to convert my license. So I went to the DGCA and I asked what do I have to do. They gave me the curriculum, I opened the book.

A large section in the book talks about how to drop mail from aero-planes. How many of you are getting your mail dropped from airplanes in the sky? It has been a long time since I got that. But we are teaching it to our kids. A guy is flying a A-340, looks out and you are telling him, listen, you need to know how to drop mail from planes. And it’s not only in pilot training, it’s everywhere. Look at our text books, open them out. Most of the stuff is not really relevant to what they are going to do.

Who knows what they are going to do. You know what they are going to do. Why? Because you are going to give them the jobs. You are the guys who are going to employ them. Do you have a role in our education curricula? Do they ask you? Do they?

Does someone come to you and say, hey listen, what do you think? Does it happen? I am asking. Does it happen systemically? Do you have structures in universities? Not individual relationships. Do you have structures in universities that allow you to impact what the IIT is teaching? Do you? It is a question. You don’t.

Those are the type of structures we have to build. Our universities structures are closed. They are silos. I meet these guys, they are brilliant guys, absolutely brilliant, but a university today is a network. It’s no longer a silo; the network has to be connected to the industry. It has to take input from industry and it is not happening.

I will tell you a story. A friend of mine, comes from the United States and he wanted to do some engineering work and he asked me what is a good place to go. I said go to the IITs. This was five or six years ago. I said go to the IITs, ask professors there.

He went to IIT. He speaks to a professor. Professor solves the problem for him and he comes out and he says to me, you know this is very interesting. I went to the IIT. That guy is a brilliant fellow. He solved my problem for me. And I said than what’s wrong with that. He said he just charged me a couple of thousand Rupees. I said, so?

He said well that thing he solved for me is actually worth $30,000. This guy has no idea about what his value is. He has got no idea about what he is worth. Why, because he is not connected to the market. He does not understand what the market is ready to pay him. He does, but institutionally he doesn’t.

So we have to change some of this. For the young, the difference between aspiration and empowerment is basically a job. I go to the rural areas and the bottom line is a job. Everything else goes around it, education, but it is all done to support jobs. And that is where you guys come in. You are the people who are going to take the lead for the creation of jobs.

What we have to do, what the government has to do, is we have to improve the playing field and create an impartial, professional and rules-based governance system. I have spoken to you about what we need to do to nurture this movement of people. I would also like to tell you about, what I feel, threatens this movement of people.

What is it that we should worry about? What are the things that can go wrong? Lack of infrastructure is clearly one. Lack of knowledge infrastructure is another one. But for me the biggest danger is excluding of people. Excluding the poor, excluding the middle-class, excluding the tribals, the Dalits and I’m going to tell you why.

Whenever we have not embraced the excluded -- the poor, women, the minorities, the Dalits, the tribals, we have fallen backwards. President Kennedy famously said that a rising tide raises all boats. I oversee a women’s self help group movement in my constituency and in Uttar Pradesh.

Chatting to them once, I told them this and said the President of the United States said a rising tide raises all boats. The woman looks at me, and said, “A rising tide doesn’t raise people who don’t have a boat.”

We have to help build the boat for them. It is not good enough to raise the tide, we have to give them the basic infrastructure to rise with the tide. What is the basic infrastructure? The basic infrastructure, as designed by the UPA, is the rights-based paradigm. Give everybody, the basic minimum on a number of key ideas. Give them the basic minimum on the job front. Give them the basic minimum on the education front. Give them the basic minimum on information which is what Nandan is doing. That is what we are trying to do with a rights-based approach.

The rights-based approach is important because it allows people to move. It builds this movement. One of the biggest problems poor people have is of identification. If you go to a village, village knows each other, everybody in the village knows each other.

When the villager leaves the village, he looses all that information and nobody else has it. So a lot of the ideas that we have are designed to support this movement and make it smoother and more comfortable for people who are going to move.

And as I said earlier, this movement is what is driving everything. It is what is driving your businesses.

Let me go back to the women for a bit. They told me they have no boats. But the work our women do, the work millions of Indian women undertake every day, not poor ones, not rich ones, every single one of them. The work they do right now as we sitting here in this nice, AC hall: they are building not only our boats, they are the waves.

And I for one will not speak of growth without speaking of them. Our economic vision must be about more than money. It must be about compassion. We must envision a future for India that leaves no man and no woman outside in the shadows.

Embracing the excluded is essential to the wealth of the nation. If we do not embrace them, we will all suffer. It’s very simple. In a democracy, the poor have a veto. And we have to carry the poor and the weak with us. India will only move forward with inclusive growth that embraces everyone and is open and attainable to those inside this room and those very, very far outside.

Now there is a strong connection between harmony and growth. I spoke about this energy and this movement and there are two ways this movement can go. It can go harmoniously or it can go disruptively and the idea of the Congress Party is that it should go harmoniously. Everybody should move together, happily.

There is a strong connection between harmony and growth. India has grown faster under the UPA because we have greatly lowered tensions between communities, made growth more inclusive, and fostered an environment of tolerance and harmony. Anger, hatred and prejudice do not contribute to growth. Do not underestimate the benefits of harmony.

When you play the politics of alienating communities you stop the flow of movement of people and ideas -- and when that happens we all suffer. Businesses suffer, the seeds of disharmony are sown and the dreams of our people are severely disrupted. Once begun, this damage takes a very long time to reverse. It is very dangerous to leave people behind.

Inclusive growth is a win-win for everybody. We in the Congress Party have been systematically working on creating modern political infrastructure that provides people with voice. By lifting people out of poverty, by using our rights approach, we are smoothening out a lot of these flows. As we have moved forward to meet these challenges we must remember that we have a tendency in India to think about solving all our problems incrementally. This is a mistake.

There are some problems, which require exponential solutions. Whenever India has done well it has done so not by incremental steps but by radically transforming its structures. Look at our successes -- from the Green Revolution to the White Revolution to the IT and Telecoms Revolution. All those successes were the result of exponential thinking.

We’re a brave, young country. Let's break out of the mode of incremental improvements and get into the mode of generational shifts. Let’s stop wondering how many colleges we can build and let’s start discussing what we can do so that the very idea of a college, the very idea of a university, is transformed.

This might sound idealistic to you but I'm speaking very seriously from India's experience -- look, if we went about the telecoms revolution in the 1980s by distributing telephones one by one and going slowly house by house, Sam Pitroda wouldn't be sitting here with us, he would still be somewhere in Kalahandi distributing telephones. He wouldn't have that wonderful white hair. He'd be bald.

I have no interest in going bald, even though it seems quite likely at this stage -- so let’s get into the business of smart interventions. Your voice and skill-sets have to go into policy in a systemic way. Sam Pitroda, Krishnamurthy, Sreedharan, Nandan Nilekani. They all combined their skills with government to empower people and transform India.

What India is thirsting for now is a visionary partnership. A partnership that incentivises you to provide economic gains for the poor and the millions of aspiring middle class. It is only once this partnership is forged that we will generate the momentum to transform this country. The Congress Party is the only political institution capable of forging this partnership. It is the only party, which is inclusive by design and whose core value is promoting harmony.

We are committed to creating an open political architecture that is accessible to every Indian. Today, we need to forge a new business compact, a new framework a new framework that responds to the 21st century.

On our part, we will ensure a fair, rules-based and stable environment for entrepreneurs, large and small. An environment where businesses need not compete in the corridors of Raisina Hill, but compete instead on the streets and galis of our towns and villages. An environment where businesses will thrive by innovating better products and services. The compact should bring the excluded into the economic mainstream.

In such an environment, I invite business to help us unleash entrepreneurship and jobs at scale. In this compact business would commit to play by the rules, protect the environment and respect the rights of people.  

We are readying ourselves by developing a new political architecture, which will incorporate in a systemic way all voices, including the voices of business.

I have come here because I believe in you. I believe that this country cannot move forward without you. I have come here because I want to forge a partnership with you. A long-term partnership to take this country forward. Let us work together to build this brave, empowered new India.

Adi Ji said in his speech, that I am somebody who spends a lot of time with poor people. But I want to make one thing very very clear.

India cannot go forward without partnership, without working together. The poor are one component of our country. Business is another component. The middle-class is the third component. We have to work with all these components.

It’s not good enough to say, listen, the poor are important. It is not good enough to say business is important. It is not good enough to say middle class is important, or the powerful are important. This country is only going to move forward if we stitch together a coalition where we are all working together and you are critical to that.

Absolutely critical. It cannot be done without you. So that is my message. Thank you for coming here and listening to me. If you have any questions, I would happily answer them.