|Rahul Gandhi listens to a woman at the event in
New Delhi on Tuesday to legalise resettlement
of colonies. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, Sept. 10: Rahul Gandhi today questioned the proponents of development and growth who refuse to make “the poor” an integral part of their economic vision.
The Congress vice-president’s forceful articulation came against the backdrop of widespread criticism of the National Food Security Bill from those concerned about receding investments and the declining value of the rupee.
Rahul, who spoke hours before Narendra Modi tore into the central government at a Jaipur rally, made an unambiguous statement about his economic philosophy which isn’t different from that of his mother Sonia Gandhi who restored the concept of welfare state under her leadership.
Rahul talked of the “paradigm shift” in the development vision that the Congress had brought about while asserting the importance of a poor-centric approach.
“When we speak of infrastructure, we refer to roads but we forget the poor labourers who have built these roads,” Rahul said, lamenting that discussions on development seldom include the poor. “It is the people who stay in jhuggis who have built Delhi. Unhone apne mathe ke paseene se ise banaya hai (they have built it with the sweat of their brow). We want to ensure their welfare.”
Defending the party’s approach, he added: “People in villages come to Delhi to fulfil their dreams. They have to undergo a period of transition, which isn’t easy. Half their families are still in villages, yet they come and earn a livelihood with their sweat and blood. We want to fulfil their dreams.”
Rahul, in command of the party now as Sonia has withdrawn from organisational matters because of health reasons, was expected by senior leaders and most MPs to forcefully articulate the “aam aadmi” thrust to counter Modi’s “corporate agenda”. He didn’t care to hedge his bets.
“When the need to provide food security to the poor was being discussed in Parliament, the Opposition spoke against it and said this would increase expenditure. Is providing someone with food a waste of money? If money is spent on it, then so be it. For the first time in thousands of years, no one in this country will go hungry,” he said, ignoring the concerns of the corporate sector on the food security bill.
Tomorrow, Rahul will launch the party’s election campaign for Rajasthan from Udaipur in the absence of Sonia, who has gone abroad for a check-up. For the first time, his photograph appeared in advertisements along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s for the Delhi programme to legalise resettlement colonies.
The Opposition has often questioned Rahul’s silence on policy matters but he has always indicated that his politics wouldn’t be any different from that of Indira Gandhi or Sonia though he understands the importance of economic reforms.
Rahul, who had taken this line during his election campaign in Uttar Pradesh and in his address to the CII earlier this year, left no scope for doubt today while giving ownership rights to the residents of resettlement colonies in Delhi.
“Earlier, people spoke only of development, it is the Congress which pioneered the rights-based approach. We want to empower the country’s poor by providing them rights,” he said.
The second theme he touched upon in today’s speech — social harmony — was also a subtle message to Modi and gave a glimpse of the alternative model of politics he is building to confront the BJP’s challenge.
“Whenever someone comes to Delhi from UP, Punjab, Bihar, Kerala or Madhya Pradesh, Delhi welcomes them with open arms. If a Hindu, Muslim or Sikh comes to Delhi, they are welcomed with open arms. Delhi represents India’s thought and spirit, it represents India’s unity. It has prospered through your hard work and harmony,” he said.
Without mentioning any other party or leader even once, he said: “We have a long way ahead, but we will complete it. We will never forget you and people like you.”
The audience comprised slum dwellers and poor migrants who had settled in Delhi’s vacant lands over the decades.