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Rahul pits farmers against industrialists in Mandsaur – Indira Gandhi 2.0 or dangerous economics?

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Rahul Gandhi in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, accused the Modi government of waiving Rs 2.5 lakh crore in loans for top industrialists but doing nothing to support the farmers. Gandhi also promised that the Congress would waive loans within 10 days of coming to power. The speech prompted finance minister Arun Jaitley to fact-check Rahul’s claims. For some, it was also a reminder of Indira Gandhi’s anti-business, pro-poor politics.

ThePrint asks: Rahul pits farmers against industrialists in Mandsaur – Indira Gandhi 2.0 or dangerous economics?

Rahul has acquired belated wisdom on wonderful benefits of socialism

Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Rahul Gandhi has become more loquacious after becoming party president. But his pronouncements show no new original idea, only plenty of “imagined” controversies to stir up Dalits, farmers, minorities.

No one has really challenged him on this shoot-and-scoot strategy, but his politics of pitting one Indian against another is divisive and dangerous, as seen in his recent attempt to pit farmers against businessmen in Mandsaur. His politics is quite simple-minded – the Congress is pro-farmer (and therefore anti-business) and the BJP is pro-business (and anti-farmer).

The last time this kind of politics found traction was during the “socialist” heydays of Indira Gandhi, where being a businessman was a bad thing. We know the consequences of that. A few businesses lived off the taxpayers. Politicians controlled power because of the support from these businesses while farmers continued to live in misery. Many Congressmen or businesses amassed fortunes. This trend was seen during the UPA regime as well.

Rahul was mysteriously silent during the UPA term when big businesses controlled almost every aspect of economic policy-making, from petroleum to coal, telecom to banks even as farmers’ distress continued. His loquaciousness was notably absent when the Congress ministers became real estate tycoons in Karnataka even as 3,800 farmers committed suicide. He is a case of acquiring belated wisdom on the wonderful benefits of socialism.

India needs entrepreneurship to bloom and millions of small and medium businesses to break the cartel of politically backed crony conglomerates. The agricultural economy and farmers’ incomes need to be restructured after decades of neglect by systematically fixing all the issues, ranging from credit, direct access to markets and prices, insurance and technology. And, certainly not by pitting them against business.

Rahul Gandhi’s managers have identified farm distress as minefield to waylay Modi in 2019

Sandip Ghose
Political Commentator

Rahul Gandhi’s speech in Mandsaur Wednesday was disingenuous at best and diabolical at worst. As Arun Jaitley asked, “how much does he know? Is he being inadequately briefed, or is he being a little too liberal with his facts?”

Rahul is playing to a script, but to what end or consequences, other than driving Narendra Modi out of power, may be beyond his own imagination.

Mandsaur is one of the more affluent districts of Madhya Pradesh, thanks to licensed poppy cultivation. Its farmers are less vulnerable to economic vagaries. Thus, there was a reason to believe that the riots of last year were engineered to corner the chief minister. Having tasted success last year, the Congress may be tactically justified in using the anniversary of the unrest to launch its campaign for the state election this year. Although the Congress’ dirty tricks department may still be able to foment trouble, Rahul’s facetious fulminations are unlikely to set Madhya Pradesh on fire.

But in his scheme of things, Mandsaur is only incidental. His advisers and image managers seem to have identified agricultural distress as a minefield to waylay Narendra Modi in 2019. This is the trajectory Rahul had adopted right from the start when he fired the first salvo of “suit boot ki sarkar” at the NDA government. Over time, he has only upped the rhetoric. Now, he is getting into a high-stakes game.

Rahul’s belligerence on the farm front has forced the BJP governments in the states to yield to populist measures such as loan waiver – now pre-emptively in a state like Rajasthan. But, the BJP will not take this lying down. It may trigger counter-reactions that may plunge the country into an agrarian crisis that no one bargained for. The politically inexperienced Gandhi scion in joining the battle, with borrowed notes from old family retainers, may be climbing on to a tiger that he will find difficult to control even if it brings him power.

Rahul Gandhi’s 134-year-old Congress doesn’t even have 5 big farmer leaders

Rasheed Kidwai
Writer and Visiting Fellow, ORF

Like grandmother India Gandhi, farmers are a vote bank for Rahul Gandhi too. For Rahul, “economic Right and social Left” is a cure to most problems that face the country.

However, he has no cogent strategy to deal with the larger issue of farm distress and why more than 40 per cent people in agriculture do not want to continue with the profession.

Indira, in 1969, had nationalised 14 banks, which controlled 70 per cent of India’s deposits. Banks had to reserve as much as 40 per cent of credit to agriculture. On Green Revolution, Indira said: “The discovery of a new seed variety stirs rural people as much as a spacewalk or a transplanted heart does the more literate classes”. However, in the long-term, mechanisation of agriculture reduced employment, and the anticipated shift from agriculture to industry did not take place.

By the time she returned to power in 1980, private sector industry was her favourite unlike her father Jawaharlal Nehru, who wanted the private sector to gradually “fade away”.

Rahul’s commitment to farmers’ cause may be well-intended but the party has neither a strong line of communication with the farming community nor clarity on key issues facing the farm sector, such as GM crops. The 134-year-old party does not have even five leaders who could represent the farming community.

Bhatta Parsaul, Sangareddy and Mandsaur are mere destinations. Rahul needs to act as a catalyst, understand the challenges farmers are facing, and offer some exemplary solutions. The UPA’s failure to implement the Swaminathan Commission recommendations is a glaring example of the Congress’ callous and shifty attitude towards farmers.

Rahul needs to set up in-house think tanks, circulate position papers, and engage farm leaders before taking grand stand on farmers.

Nothing that Rahul said in Mandsaur is starkly different from BJP’s rhetoric

Rajesh Chakrabarti
Professor, Jindal Global Business School

Rahul Gandhi’s speech in Mandsaur is a welcome change. For once, it challenges the BJP and its policies towards farmers. Statistically, 50 per cent of India’s workforce is in agriculture. However, it produces less that 20 per cent of the GDP. Hence, it should be the opposition’s duty to be the voice of the farmers. That is precisely what Rahul Gandhi has been ensuring in Mandsaur.

The idea of leaders pitting farmers against industrialists keeps coming back. Every government has done it. It cuts across party lines. If this promise of loan waivers is something we are uncomfortable with, then we must also question what Adityanath did in Uttar Pradesh and Chandrababu Naidu did before him in Andhra Pradesh. Chidambaram gave a blanket country-wide loan waiver once. Mamata Banerjee came to power in Singur defending farmers’ rights as well.

The comparison of Indira Gandhi is not appropriate. Rahul Gandhi has proved himself to be a vocal and agile leader, countering the government in every possible way. The recent walkover gained by the BJP is disastrous for a democracy. It is essential that an opposition comes up.

Since the farmers form a mass vote base, it is every party’s priority to cater to their demands. Rahul Gandhi just ensured that the biggest political group is compensated.

Nothing that Rahul has mentioned in Mandsaur is starkly different from the rhetoric that the BJP has used elsewhere. One may not agree with everything he has said, but the fact that he is countering the vociferous rhetoric of the ruling party at this level is a good thing. Rahul Gandhi is just doing his job.

Economics is certainly not on Rahul Gandhi’s mind for 2019 campaign

Kumar Anshuman
Associate Editor, ThePrint

In April 2013, then Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi had delivered a speech at CII, the industry body. This was his first interaction with the business community. In his entire speech, Rahul tried to convince the business community that the growth at top cannot happen until it starts from the bottom of the pyramid. He even sought help from the business community in infrastructure building because the government alone could not do it.

Five years later, Rahul has let himself slip into the skin of a social activist, who talks about the poor, the farmers and the jobless youth. While doing this, he doesn’t spare the business community. In every speech, he mentions how the debt of few industrialists has been written off while farmers are forced to commit suicide. Rahul mentions that his government would build food parks but forgets to note that it would be the business community who would build this.

In no manner is he the new version of his late grandmother Indira Gandhi. Indira had a plan backed by excellent execution. She nationalised major private banks, although most of them are today in debt because of poor fund management. She even nationalised oil companies, which helped maintain low price of crude products. True, she went populist with her ‘garibi hatao’ slogan and won. But in the end, she perfectly balanced a good mix of industry and agriculture.

In the case of Rahul Gandhi, the world would get to know of his execution plan only when he comes to power. Going by his positioning, he sounds populist, but has no idea of how the debt waivers for farmers would impact the nation’s finances. Certainly, economics is not on Rahul’s mind as he starts the party campaign for 2019.

Compiled by Deeksha Bhardwaj, journalist at ThePrint. 

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  1. From NDTV to Republic, Shekhar Gupta has made great strides. No wonder General V K Singh coined a term for his types.

  2. The optics of hugging farmers, offering solace and support to the largest group of Indians who are in genuine distress, is clearly superior to having chai with film stars and industrialists for whom the sun is Shining even at night. Tectonic plates are beginning to move. Best to heed them in good time.

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