In any other democracy, Rahul Gandhi would have seen the end of his political career in 2014. After successive losses in nearly all State elections in the build up to the mega 2014 polls, the disastrous performance of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Elections showed the weakness and ineffectiveness of the leadership of the new Gandhi Scion.
The Delhi elections were the pinnacle of Rahul Gandhi’s failure. In the two years under his leadership, the Congress fell from over 40 seats in the Delhi Assembly to 0. There was a burning urge in some factions of the Congress to finally see the back of this disastrous leader. However, this is not any ordinary party and not any ordinary man we are talking about. This is the Indian National Congress and the man in question is none other than a Gandhi. With that surname, comes the pride of a family history that is probably unsurpassed in Indian politics and history. From the globally popular ‘freedom fasts’ of Mahatma Gandhi to the pioneering and successful game changing policies of Rajeev Gandhi, the Gandhi family has dominated the Indian Political Circa since times pre independence.
Rahul Gandhi took what he calls a “leave of inspection”. Repeating his post 2014 Election drama, Gandhi took a 57 day break from active politics, disappearing into thin air. Untracked for 57 days, several conspiracy theories emerged. From a vacation in Bangkok to a camp in Uttarakhand, the theories kept moving across countries and cities. With a defiant Congress refusing to give any information, the theories gained momentum and trends surrounding Gandhi appeared on social media, with some wild theories even suggesting a possible disappearance in the Bermuda triangle (for good).
However, all that silence of the last two months, Rahul Gandhi seems to have saved up for his return. In two days, in two separate speeches, he seems to have thrown the gauntlet back at the Modi Sarkar, or the ‘suit-boot ki Sarkar’ as he called it. Just think about it for a moment, in the 10 years he has been an MP, Rahul has only spoken 8 times in Parliament. Yesterday was his 9th. And none of the previous eight quite had the same impact as yesterday’s. You may disagree with the content of what he said, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but you cannot deny that this was Rahul’s most spirited and profound intervention in his short and limited life as an MP.
Now here’s why some of the content of his speech was misleading if not downright incorrect. In Rahul’s binary worldview paying more MSP to farmers is the best way to help them. The best way to beat an agrarian crisis is to waive off their debt like the UPA did which now in hindsight, is acknowledged as the point from which our current deficit woes began. While Rahul is proud that MSP grew at an average of 20 per cent in the UPA’s 10- year rule, it was also the single biggest contributor to the rise of wholesale price inflation. That in turn had a knock on effect on what you and I as consumers were paying at the market for our food grains and our vegetables. Under the UPA, Consumer Price Inflation swung between a low of under 5 per cent when they took office to a high of over 10 per cent. Any average economist will tell you that increasing MSP is a recipe for an inflation disaster. But that’s the part Rahul chose to conveniently ignore. Vote bank economics doesn’t develop an economy and a country, real economic policies suiting a country’s needs do. And what India needs today is rural irrigation and electrification, not namesake measures like waiving of loans or increasing MSPs. However, expecting good economics from the Congress is like expecting Pakistan to solve its terror issues. We all know both can be done, but neither of the parties involved are interested in solving the issue at hand.
The biggest problems in our agrarian sector are the low yield per acre and the excessive dependence on Mother Nature. Our harvest is directly proportional to the quality of the monsoon. No other agrarian economy in the world depends so much on the vagaries of nature. Even this latest crisis was sown because of unseasonal rains in the spring. While no force can tame nature, surely we can predict the weather better. Surely that information can be passed onto our farmers in a more reliable and timely fashion. Our irrigation systems can be improved. Rural connectivity can be improved and at least at a bare minimum, we can provide our hardworking farmers with electricity for their farm machines. That is real hard core rural agrarian developmental economics. But of course, that won’t win you too many votes in a country still living off subsidy and “special package” politics.
One of the main problems facing our farm sectors is the problem of ownership of land, or rather the lack of it. Indian farmers are heavily indebted and don’t even own the land they use for farming. Many argue that the Indian farm sizes are miniscule compared to the Western farms like the ones in Europe or even in the Americas. However, farm sizes is not what determines a good agrarian economy. China is the biggest proof for that. Chinese farms are smaller than Indian farms, and still yield more per hectare. The main reason is that the Chinese farmers own their own land, and therefore are free to take their own decisions. The proportion of farm workers without land to those with it is miniscule. However, in India we have a completely opposite situation. Rural entrepreneurship can be cultivated only with ownership, and we need to take that big step and make significant land ref
orms if we are to increase rural yield and subsequently increase rural incomes.
But Rahul Gandhi conveniently chose to ignore all this. In his black and white narrative painted with a green perspective, you can either be with industrialists or you can be with the farmer and the common man. We need to create a mind set in our people that industry and agriculture are two sides of the same coin, the final result of which is growth for all and development of the economy, and welfare of the country. Agriculture is not a sustainable economic model, and that’s why all the developed countries have moved towards a higher proportion of industry than agriculture. Unfortunately, the politicians will do just the opposite as it makes for great soundbites and even greater political brownie points. For the first time in the last 10 months, the Modi government finds itself on the back foot on the issue of the land ordinance. Why else would the Prime Minister bend over backwards to dispel what he calls a ‘misperception’. In his speech to BJP MPs on Sunday the PM used the word ‘gareeb’ at least 10 times. From a pro development government, the Prime Minister has been forced to reinstate the principle of a pro-poor government.
This country has seen immense changes since the balance of payments crisis forced the PV Narasimha Rao government to open up India’s economy. It has been the one truly transformational event in our politico-economic history. It’s changed an entire generation of Indians, from poor to aspirational to middle-class. But one thing hasn’t changed- the mind-set. As a senior BJP leader said many years ago, “despite all this liberalisation and globalisation, we will always be a left of centre country”. Today that leader is a senior minister in the Modi government. The events of the last few days have only proven him right.