Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law, industrialist Robert Vadra (left), was present in the audience. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, Dec. 21: Rahul Gandhi today did his best to address the misgivings of industry that the future Congress leader was not giving due importance to economic growth in his obsession with poverty alleviation.
But he emphatically declared that the party’s middle path approach would not be abandoned.
“There is absolutely no confusion in my mind. You need growth,” Rahul said. “Poverty is neither befitting of human dignity, nor is it conducive to good business. I would like to state clearly that poverty cannot be fought without growth. Maintaining robust growth has enabled the UPA government to invest in people. In 10 years, almost a third of India’s poor have risen above the poverty line.”
Addressing the valedictory session of the 86th annual general meeting of Ficci (the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry), Rahul said: “There is a view that our investments in food security, employment guarantee and rural development are a drag on economic growth. I don’t believe there is a trade-off between investments in the social sector and economic growth. It is today’s investments in people that create tomorrow’s markets. It is today’s markets that allow us to invest in our people’s future.”
The strong advocacy of the balanced approach came hours after Union environment minister Jayanthi Natrajan put in her papers all of a sudden and her portfolio was given to petroleum minister Veerappa Moily.
Although the general perception was that Natrajan resigned as she would be drafted for party work, there is no denying the fact that she annoyed influential sections and the Prime Minister by creating hurdles in environmental clearances for major projects.
Sections of the government and the party believe Natrajan was eased out, making use of this opportunity to shuffle the cards for election management.
She is articulate and has been an effective spokesperson for the party. But her resignation surprised many as it preceded the expected departure of rural development minister Jairam Ramesh.
Talking of “frustration with environmental clearances”, Rahul said today: “Of course, many projects are still stuck – some for good reason and some for no good reason at all.”
He said the cabinet committee on investments and the project monitoring group reflected the recognition of the need to fast-track clearances.
In the question-answer session that followed his speech, Rahul responded to a question on environment clearances. “Environment is very important but we have to see industry doesn’t suffer. Rent-seeking and blocking projects are wrong. The real issue is arbitrary power, the environment minister can’t do what he wants. We have to create rules and structures.”But he gave a word of caution to the industry, too. “There has been a dramatic rise in transparency and we have to get used to the changing paradigm. It is possible to carve out a clear line. You can’t allow wholesale plunder of natural resources. There are environmental damages that are non-recoverable. We can’t allow that,” Rahul said,.
He stressed the importance of rules and structures even when a question was put to him on the problems created by the new Land Acquisition Act, arguing that it would help the industry in the end.
“Take the example of the Tatas in Bengal. The absence of a law allowed political mobilisation. The law will protect you by creating a transparent system. In the Maoist corridor, land is the central issue… you are already bearing a cost. There is a large cost of not having a law,” Rahul said, claiming that the government had not abdicated its responsibility and there were large spaces where acquisition was possible.
The clarity and firmness with which Rahul spoke evoked appreciation from the audience of business leaders.
Rahul also talked politics, clearly building his argument in the context of the challenge posed by BJP’s Narendra Modi.
Without naming Modi or the BJP, he said: “Around the time Mahatma Gandhi was making his first address to Ficci in 1931, the dark shadows of fascism had begun to spread over Europe. A party built on a divisive ideology full of hatred, arrogance and misguided notions of superiority plunged the world into a war that brought Germany to its knees. Millions of people were killed and communities impoverished. Businesses were destroyed.”The context of this historical recall at a business meet became clear when he added: “What our people understood intuitively but the Europeans of the 1930s did not was that wealth cannot be constructed on poverty. Peace cannot be constructed on conflict. Societies cannot be built on injustice and hatred.”
He further rubbed the message in: “Our vision is of India united by compassion, not by power; living in harmony, not in hatred; thriving in peace rather than suffocating in conflict; filled with humility, not with hubris.”Not oblivious to the general perception that industry was with Modi, Rahul said: “The Congress mission is anchored in a simple idea which is not new, an idea where humanity is united in love, compassion and harmony and in this great country of ours it always has, and will, trump hatred.”
The expression of hope came against the admission that the “Congress had not hit a six” in the recent elections and needed “foresight and humility to accept the messages being expressed to us without resorting to the usual props of statistical data and excuse making”.
Rahul resorted to philosophical excuse to create a ray of hope. His mother Sonia Gandhi too delivered the same message to business leaders before returning to power in 2004, that peace and social harmony were imperatives for doing business.