The ruling BJP is blighted by divisions while opposition parties in the country are united like never before, Congress president Rahul Gandhi tells HT in an interview covering a wide range of subjects from the unemployment crisis to agrarian distress, the Rafale jet deal, and the best way forward for the nation.
I believe that the second green revolution is absolutely possible in India. In fact, it is critical. What would it entail? It would entail building infrastructure, connecting farms, setting up food processing units, providing farmers with logistic support and standing by him. This is not happening today. Can you believe that districts have been handed over to individual corporates for profiteering out of crop insurance scheme? That’s against the very fundamental rule of crop insurance benefitting the farmer, rather than the insurer. This government handed over insurance to Mr Anil Ambani’s company for the whole of Jammu & Kashmir. It is a systematic hand-out of India’s assets and wealth to 20-30 crony friends. This is happening in the defence sector, in the agriculture sector, in infrastructure, and everywhere.
Q. What is your plan for agriculture?
A. When someone is in crisis, you support them. You have a strategy for them. You don’t react in fits and starts only when the opposition questions you. Mr Narendra Modi was asleep, as far as agriculture is concerned until we started to point out the failures. India is emotionally connected to agriculture. We feel the pain and tribulations of our farmers. Mr Narendra Modi might think agriculture is irrelevant, we think the opposite. We think farmers are part of the economic structure and agriculture needs to be integrated effectively with our economy.
You are not going to get jobs from 15-20 biggest industrialists in the country alone. You will generate jobs from unleashing the huge potential of micro, small and medium businesses. I am not saying that biggest businesses should not have space. They should absolutely have a space, but micro, small and medium businesses should have access to the banks and policy. Why is it that the top 40 businesses have Rs 12 lakh crore of NPAs and the small and medium businesses have only a fraction thereof? Obviously, they don’t have the same access.
How many of them can walk into FM or PM’s office? Mr Anil Ambani flies with the Prime Minister to France. Can a micro, small and medium businessman do that? Does Mr Narendra Modi call micro, small and medium businessmen ‘bhai’ – Mehul bhai, Nirav bhai? The answer is, no.
Second, every single district in India has some special skill, capability and a unique product that they produce. Link these to the manufacturing structure. Mr Modi keeps talking about start-ups. How many start-ups has he created? So, you cannot completely ignore and disrespect skills and then say we are going to enable manufacturing. There is a disconnect in Mr Modi’s mind between skill, capability, India’s unique knowledge and the architecture of manufacturing.
There is huge amount of skill in India – you go to Moradabad, Kanpur, Surat, Ludhiana, Sriperumbudur. But that skill has no access to banks. Give them access to the banking system, give them support, protect them, and see what happens. I subscribe to the view that India can compete and surpass China in manufacturing. China has successfully taken its traditional knowledge hubs and connected them to the global economy.
You respect engineers, you respect lawyers, but you don’t respect people who toil with their hands. Who founded Honda, who founded Ford, who founded Mitsubishi? Mechanics who were supported by the banking system. Now look at the Indians who have started car companies, how many of them are mechanics?
It’s a mindset and also the approach in the thinking of the BJP. The BJP fundamentally believes in hierarchy. For them, Mr Modi is the centre of all knowledge. It begins and ends there. You can ask this to Mr Gadkari, Ms Sushma Swaraj. According to the BJP, there is only one person with understanding and knowledge and that is Mr Modi. With that design, there is no way you can identify skill or knowledge. I sit with a farmer I am absolutely convinced with zero doubt that he understands farming better than I do. The Congress party as a system respects skill and knowledge. You ask any big corporate today. They will tell you that we supported Mr Modi fully and will also tell you it was the biggest disaster. They will tell you that in private.
The question is about listening, respect – it is not about policy. Policy comes after you listen and after you give respect. The whole idea is to give power to these voices. Not to crush these voices and turn yourself into an unquestionable God.
Q. One of the ideas you spoke in recent weeks is minimum guaranteed income to address the distress faced by poor people in rural and urban areas. Do you think this will lead to some issues over how these people are selected?
A. This is a revolutionary idea. It is a minimum guarantee income. It is a direction. It is a commitment that we will protect our weakest people. It is going to be done in a progressive manner and it is going to be well thought through and carried out. What we have placed on the table is a commitment. We have been doing the homework for six months now. We are going to broaden that discussion and create a policy that will work.
What Mr Modi doesn’t accept is that India today is in a crisis. India has a massive job crisis, a humongous agriculture crisis, and Indian youngsters are deeply distressed about their future. This is generating a huge amount of anger. The Congress party will assuage the anger and give a vision going forward. Linking skills to banking and political systems, listening to people and respecting skills is the answer. There are lots of people who are poor and deeply concerned about their future. We have to give them a sense that the Government of India is going to look after you, protect your interests and move forward.