Rahul Gandhi, a contender for prime minister in 2014, on Thursday offered a broad vision of 21st century India in his first major speech to business leaders that critics called vague and rambling.
Addressing a gathering of Indian business tycoons in New Delhi, Gandhi did not touch on any of the issues bedeviling India such as high inflation, decelerating investment, a ballooning current account deficit and red tape that ties up infrastructure projects for years.
Instead, in a speech that was long on imagery and anecdotes but short on specifics, he called for a revamp of the political system to better respond to the needs of India’s 1.2 billion people, a closer relationship between government and big business and unleashing the potential of the Indian ‘beehive’.
“China is referred to as the dragon and India as an elephant. But we are not an elephant, we are a beehive,” he said.
However, he pointed out that unlike a beehive which gives every member a voice, the system in India is clogged and the voices of most people are not heard. He said the answer to these problems lay in empowering the lowest man.
“Millions of Indians are brimming with energy. We are now sitting on an unprecedented tide of transformation. This tremendous movement of people and ideas is going to define this country in the 21st century,” Gandhi said.
The hour-long address to the Confederation of Indian Industry, was closely watched by economists, diplomats and investors keen to gain insight into the thinking of the secretive 42-year-old lawmaker, who rarely speaks in public and shuns the limelight.
“He wants to change the political system and how it works which is an interesting thought. But the important part is execution about which he is vague or does not yet have answers,” said Anjali Verma, economist at PhillipCapital.
Members from the BJP called the speech confused, while the top trending topic on Twitter in India while Gandhi was speaking was #PappuCII.
Many had expected Gandhi to use the platform of the CII event to outline his economic vision for a country with ambitions to become a major power but still struggling to uplift hundreds of millions of people mired in poverty.
“I think he was very honest and made the points straight from his heart,” said Rakesh Bharti Mittal, vice-chairman and managing director of Bharti Enterprises. But, he added: “Ultimately, whoever leads the country will need an economic agenda.”
Gandhi during his speech ridiculed the guessing game over whether or not he will become prime minister, saying, “It is all smoke. The only relevant question in this country is how can we give our people voice. It is not important what Rahul Gandhi thinks, its important what a billion Indians think.”
Rahul invokes the Gita, Buddha at meet
Rahul Gandhi Thursday invoked the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu text, saying compassion was key to peace and development. He noted that Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Buddha too reiterated this message. “Our idea is so big that it can take along people outside India also... the idea is compassion... Mahatma Gandhi said it, Buddha said it and it is written in the Gita also,” Gandhi said. “If you could just hear what people have to say... it is good; going to the worst enemy and hearing him (out),” said Gandhi.
Rahul’s speech lacklustre: BJP
Labelling Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s speech “lacklustre and without direction”, the BJP said on Thursday that it was a tacit admission that the UPA government had not empowered people in the last nine years. BJP spokesperon Prakash Javadekar said people were fed up with the United Progressive Alliance government and wanted change. Party leader Yashwant Sinha said the Congress leader did not address the present problems of the economy and only shared a set of platitudes. Asked about comparison between Gandhi and Narendra Modi, Sinha said it would be ‘very unfair’ to make a comparison. “There is no comparison. I don't want to be harsh on young man.”