It was a much-anticipated speech and, at the end of it, Rahul Gandhi got the thumbs up from India Inc.
In his maiden address to industry, Gandhi, Vice-President of the Congress party and possible prime ministerial candidate in the next general elections, struck a chord with the audience when he spoke on his pet themes — inclusive growth, reaching out to the poor and the weakest, and decentralising power.
At the end of his nearly hour-long address to the CII annual general meeting, captains of industry, led by the likes of Adi Godrej, S. Gopalakrishnan, Ajay S. Shriram, Rahul Bajaj and Mohandas Pai, gave him a standing ovation.
Gandhi, comparing India with China, said India was like a beehive and not an elephant. China’s was a top-down economy, while in India it buzzes from below. The beehive has its own power and complexities. The solution is in realising the nation’s strength as a beehive, Gandhi said.
Agency reports quoted industry leaders such as Rahul Bajaj and T.V. Mohandas Pai as saying the Congress leader spoke from his heart. But another section felt that he did not outline any solutions to the problems.
Gandhi dismissed all talk over his prime ministerial aspirations and his marriage as irrelevant. The only relevant question, according to him, is how to give power to the people.
He lauded the achievements of industry in leaving an Indian mark on the global platform, but at the same time he did not move away from his call for bringing the poor into the fold.
Would he take on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is making a strong pitch to be the BJP’s prime minister candidate? Gandhi did not do so head on, but his persistent calls for inclusive growth stood out.
“It is dangerous to leave people behind. Whenever we excluded the women, the dalits, the minorities, we have fallen back,” he warned the large gathering.
India, Gandhi said, had seen faster growth under UPA because it tried to maintain harmony among all communities.
“When you play the politics of alienating communities, you stop the movement of people and ideas. When that happens we all suffer. Businesses suffer and the seeds of disharmony are sown and the dreams of our people are severely disrupted.”
Even as the young leader stumbled through his speech a couple of times, accepting nonchalantly that he seemed to have lost his notes, his address still struck a chord for the issues he picked up. He made a crucial point about the education system, which requires students to continue to study obsolete texts.
He called for the industry to work in close proximity with universities since “you know what they are going to do because you are going to hire them.”
Gandhi’s critique of the political system was inward-looking. “You can give one person all the power you want but he can’t solve the problem of a billion people. Give a billion people the power to solve their problems and it will be done immediately.”
He added that the industry and the common man are both plagued by the same problem — they have no institutional mechanism to get their voice heard. And till the system remains closed, he added, the country’s problems will not be resolved.
“I believe this country cannot move forward without you (industry). I am here to build a long-term partnership with you,” Gandhi said, adding that the country cannot progress unless Government and industry work together closely.