Rahul disavows PM ambition, says empowerment his focus (Roundup)

New Delhi, April 4 (IANS) Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi Thursday denied he was in the race to be the prime minister and said his aim was to “give voice to a billion-plus Indians” and fight for inclusive growth.

Rubbishing unending speculation that he might be the UPA nominee for prime minister, Gandhi said: “It’s an irrelevant question. It’s all smoke. The only relevant question is to give people their voice.”

Gandhi was speaking to a packed audience of industrialists and businessmen Thursday morning at the Banquet Hall of Hotel Ashok at the National Conference of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). This was 42-year-old Gandhi’s first interaction with industry leaders after becoming vice president of the Congress Jan 19.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the forum Wednesday.

“Many peo

ple predict the probability of me becoming the prime minister, when will I get married etc etc. But these are all irrelevant issues and what we should focus is on finding voice for a billion people. We have to channelize our attention to more important issues like corruption, under-development and the inept political structures,” he said.

Although he had a prepared text, he often extrapolated and deviated from it and, after his formal address, chose to expound on his political philosophy on the “structural” and “systemic” problems of the nation as he answered a couple of questions while pacing up and down the dais.

Gandhi’s speech was laced with anecdotes, his personal experiences gathered from interfaces with common people and his perceptions on the future course of development for India. He began stiffly, but gradually opened up and then became very informal. At one stage, he called industrialist Ajay Shriram to his side, asked him to hold the mike and put his arm around him to illustrate an incident from his China visit.

Noting that it was a fate of accident that he comes from a chain of people “with a particular DNA”, he said no single individual would be able to resolve all the problems facing the country.

“If you think there is a guy who will come on a horse charging through and set everything right, this is not going to happen,” said Gandhi.

He said miracles should not be expected from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh either. “If you expect the prime minister to solve all the problems, you are going to keep expecting,” he said amid titter from the audience.

Gandhi questioned the top-heavy system of governance and said majority of the peoples’ leaders like pradhans of gram panchayats (village level leaders) are denied any say or have any inputs in the political process that goes into decision making.

“This is very frustrating,” he said, and called upon industry to partner with the government in pushing development and urged the business community to go for “smart interventions”.

“I believe in you. I want to forge a partnership with you to take India forward,” he said.

To facilitate that, he assured them a “fair and rule-based government system.

“We have to push the envelope,” he said in overhauling outdated systems and rules and empower the poorest of the poor and the marginalised. Only then will India progress and be able to take on the world,” he said.

A lot of dysfunctionality in the system is because it is a closed shop, he said, not offering any explanation as to why the system he was critical of could not be changed all these years.

He took a dig at Hindutva ideology and showed his socialist side.

“I don’t like to keep people out. You can’t keep Biharis out of Mumbai or the Muslims of the system. This is not sustainable,” he said.

“Dalits, minorities, destitutes and women are all important links in the societal structure, and we have to reach out to them with compassion and empathy.”

Noting the Indian idea of compassion was big enough to accommodate even outsiders, he said the corporates had a crucial role in developing India and urged them to “embrace its complexities”

The corporates greeted Gandhi with a lot of applause.

“It was a path-breaking speech. He talked of involving the common man,” CII president Adi Godrej told IANS.

“His thoughts on inclusive growth are in alignment with ours,” CII vice president Ajay Shriram told IANS.

The Bharatiya Janata Party called Gandhi’s speech “lackluster” and “without direction”.

Party leader Yashwant Sinha said the Congress leader did not address the present problems of Indian 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 the young man.”

Congress spokesperson P.C. Chacko said: “When he said that he is not attaching much importance to who is going to be the prime minister that does not mean that he is not going to be the prime minister or that he is going to be the prime minister.”

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