“Land in Palwal was transferred in the names of Vadra, Rahul and even Priyanka in spite of the clear stipulation that only Dalits can own that land. Originally the land in question was given to members of the Dalit community sometime in the mid-50s, with the specific condition that it can be transferred, if at all, only to fellow Dalits. How Vadra and Gandhi came to own it is in itself a scandal.” – Virendra Kapoor
Now that he seems to have discovered his tongue, many wonder if he has also found wisdom. For it is not absolutely necessary that one should come with the other. Indeed, some of the most garrulous and word-smart people still can be quite dim actually. Here in the case of Rahul Gandhi 2.0, you are not exactly sure as to whose words he has taken to regurgitating in the Lok Sabha and outside. Therefore, before you pass the post-sabbatical Gandhi scion, reserve your judgement.
His courtiers might be lapping up every word that comes out of his mouth, not unlike the doting parents who rejoice over every semi-constructed monosyllable coming from the mouth of a newborn, but all that one can discern from the declamations of the Congress vice-president thus far is that he is out to recycle the worn-out cliché-ridden politics of his great-grandmother. Garibi Hatao-II, we are afraid, is unlikely to pay electoral dividends nearly half a century after that heady slogan had first swept Indira Gandhi into the Lok Sabha on the back of a huge mandate. But soon Indira Gandhi had frittered away most of the goodwill, seeking to excuse her own lack of performance by telling the poor that she did not have a magic wand.
Nearly half-a-century later, India is now a very different country. We are fully in the information age. Mass media educates the masses. Their own experience too has taught them to be wary of charlatans. Even the unlettered poor no longer trust the netas spewing spiel about “garibi hatao” without offering any concrete plan as to how they intend achieving that objective. Indeed, in the case of Gandhi, the trust deficit between him and his targeted audience of farmers, landless labourers, unemployed millions et al is all the greater not only because of the wasted decade of the UPA, but also due to more than half a century of the Congress raj since Independence.
In short, by mechanically mouthing clichés about the weak and the underprivileged he cannot expect to win back for his party the trust of the people. What he says simply does not evoke confidence. For the hackneyed prescriptions have few takers even among leftist economists. For instance, the problem of agrarian distress precedes the advent of Narendra Modi at the Centre. And offering farm waivers and subsidized seeds and fertilizers and ruinously high minimum support price for farm produce is no solution when the malaise runs much deeper.
If only the Gandhi scion would try and understand, a major cause for agrarian distress, including farmers’ suicides, is that too many people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Contrary to what he would have us believe, not everyone in the rural areas is a farmer. A little less than 60% of the rural folks are, but again, of that a little less than 60% are landless, daily-wagers who find seasonal work on farms. Besides, nearly 80% land holdings measure less than 1.5 hectares.
How, then, do you try and tackle agrarian distress? No, not by offering farm waivers every other year and thus jeopardizing the health of the banking sector. The solution lies in moving the people away from farms to manufacturing, services and myriad other fields generating an ever-increasing number of jobs as the economy expands at a decent 7%-plus clip. If, however, Gandhi has his way, there would be no land for expanding infrastructure, for boosting the industrial sector and for growing economy to create more jobs in the services sector, which already accounts for nearly 60% of the GDP.
Tom-tomming opposition to the proposed changes in the land acquisition law without caring to acquaint himself with the views of unprejudiced experts is bound to make a laughing stock of the Congress vice-president. Noted economists could not have been all wrong when they endorsed these changes, arguing that, otherwise, even essential government-led development would be impossible. But, alas, like a broken gramophone record, Gandhi would grate on and on how the proposed changes are anti-poor, anti-farmer. Has anyone asked the farmers? No. Because they do not care. Politicians falsely claiming to speak for the farmers are, in fact, concerned about their own welfare, their own future. Nothing else.
If such rank selfishness comes to define Rahul’s politics, he is unlikely to impress the voters. Here is a well-intentioned suggestion. Henceforth, Gandhi can hope to profit if he pointedly embraces economic realism, talks of expanding the economy through the creation of more jobs, more services, etc. Poverty alleviation as a vote-catcher no longer works. Address the constituency of the poor and the jobless not as if they were dumb, but as an intelligent people whose foremost desire is to get jobs, and not to slog indefinitely on the farms for subsistence-level wages.
The voter now is aspirational, and not just in the urban centres. Rural youth ape Bollywood far more than do their counterparts in big cities. Latest trends in fashion are copied early in the countryside. Therefore, trying to irretrievably yoke rural folks to small and marginal holdings will most certainly evoke their ire. They will resent the gumption of the politicians seeking to stagnate them on poor-paying tiny farms in backward villages while they aspire for naukari in big towns and metros.
In sum, Rahul Gandhi needs a reality check. Delivering, parrot-like, set-piece speeches, with the fawning Congressmen “jee-huzooring” every word, might soon cease to attract even media interest, once the initial curiosity at his having found his tongue wears off. He must acquire practical wisdom as well.
Retired Delhi High Court Judge S.N. Dhingra, named the commissioner for inquiry into Robert Vadra’s land deals in Haryana, enjoyed a reputation for scrupulous honesty and for his no-nonsense attitude. A thorough-going probe, therefore, can be expected.
But, surprisingly, while the terms of inquiry refer to the questionable land deals in Gurgaon, equally scandalous transactions in Palwal district of Haryana find no mention. In this particular deal, not only Vadra, but brother-in-law Rahul Gandhi too was in violation of the law. The land in Palwal was transferred in the names of Vadra, Gandhi and even Priyanka in spite of the clear stipulation that only Dalits can own that land. Originally the land in question was given to members of the Dalit community sometime in the mid-50s, with the specific condition that it can be transferred, if at all, only to fellow Dalits. How Vadra and Gandhi came to own it is in itself a scandal.
Indeed, after the scandal burst out into the open, Gandhi transferred the Palwal land to someone else’s name, but that did not alter the fact that he had illegally owned a piece of land strictly meant for Dalits. The plea that he no longer owns it would not absolve him of wrongdoing — just as the possessor of an illegal weapon cannot escape punishment arguing that he no longer owns the unlicensed gun.
Now, why would a self-avowedly farmer-friendly Rahul Gandhi try and grab someone else’s land? That is easily answered. His “suited-booted jijaji”, as a BJP MP called Vadra, after all, was not selfish. He would share the loot with his celebrated brother-in-law, especially when the Congress governments had made it possible for him to become enormously rich, without his having to do anything to deserve that kind of money. – The Sunday Guardian, 17 May 2015
» Virendra Kapoor is a freelance columnist and commentator on current affairs. He has also been a editor of Free Press Journal, Mumbai and a senior editor of Indian Express, Delhi.