Most of last week, the dominant theme to dwell upon for armchair critics was the coming-out speech of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. And, typically, the verdict drew extreme responses.
A similar discussion broke out over a luncheon meeting last week, which ended up with the hostess challenging me to draw up a compelling alternative speech to what was delivered by Gandhi in Jaipur. As I told the hostess, there were two factors that would have inspired such a speech. One was to make a splash and underline his anointment as the political heir, and the other to inspire the demoralized cadres ahead of staking claim to a record third consecutive term at the centre.
The context of the Congress party’s convention, the scale of it and the massive media attention ensured that the first task was easily realized. In the case of the second, there was much the delivery and diction advisers of US President Barack Obama would have happily shared with the Congress party’s political heir apparent.
Leaving this aside, and after due apologies to the raft of speech writers claiming credit for the original speech, the following is the alternative narrative that Gandhi missed out at the expense of completely owning the moment for himself and his loyal party people, and in sending a much needed message of inspiration to the nation:
“Friends, the fact that we click as a team is obvious to all; we have won power for two consecutive terms. But whether we are performing to potential—the honest, yet uncomfortable, answer is no. In a scale of one to 10, we would score around five, while our potential is above nine. This is the gap, my friends, I wish to bridge; if the Congress party performs at potential, the country will gain even more.
And this can be managed only through the synergy of experience, represented by our senior leaders, some of whom are on the dais, and the indefatigable energy and aspirations of our youth members, some of whom are in the audience; our party and the participants at this convention are a mirror image of the altered demography of a new India.
How often have we heard that 65% of India is less than 35 years of age; it is far more than a demographic statistic. It is a happy coincidence. Our country is on the threshold of greatness; this potential can be easily realized through the labours of a young, productive population. I am happy to say that this is exactly what we are doing in our party; tapping the experience to come up with ideas that are then being executed with the energy of our youth members. This is exactly how we pulled off the recent win in Himachal Pradesh against all odds; and we will do so 11 more times in the state elections due this year.
Friends, we have to believe in ourselves before the nation believes in us. And why shouldn’t we be proud of our achievements? If we listen to our critics, it is as though all we have done is tolerate corruption and failed to fight inflation and generate jobs. I concede some of this criticism may be fair, but is it equally unfair to ignore our achievements? More importantly, they prematurely judge us before the task is concluded.
Now, it is a sad, yet true, fact that we have not been able to improve the lot of our country’s most socially oppressed segments—the scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs)—as desired by our founding forefathers. It is another thing to say that we have not succeeded at all. I am happy to point out that thanks to two back-to-back terms of our government at the centre, we have achieved a fair bit of success; far more than our critics will ever concede, but far less than where we would want India to be.
According to the numbers released by Census 2011, nearly three in five SCs have access to electricity, one in two to banking services and telephones; 10 years ago, only one in four SCs had access to banking services and one in 10 to telephones. The trends are similar for STs, too. Needless to say, my friends, nationally, the picture is even more impressive. In short, I am proud that my party and government can stake claim to India trading up materially; those walking are now driving; those who depended on well water are now drawing tap water... I can go on. But clearly, the job is far from done.
All this would not have been possible without the foresight and wisdom of our senior leaders, both within the government and the Congress party. I know my mother would not approve, but let me, as a proud son, give her the credit for shaping our party’s social message of inclusiveness. It was her brave stand for the aam admi that has moulded the entitlement regime pioneered by our government; the right to employment, the right to education, the right to information and now the right to health and the right to food. We have restored maryada (honour) to the aam admi. It is changing the entire social discourse in this country. We are too close to these events to be able to either judge them or assess them. But friends, history will look back and bear me out.
And, yes, my critics may claim otherwise; I am proud to be a Gandhi, but prouder to be a Congressman and even prouder to be an Indian. If this is considered a crime, try me a million times for this.
My friends, like I said in the beginning, we are a long way from where we should be as a party and a nation to realize our true potential. So let us today take a deep resolve... if I may request everyone to stand.
To my party people, I say, keep faith in my ideas like I trust in your abilities. To my country, I renew the appeal of my father and before that of my grandmother and even earlier of my great grandfather and ultimately, Mahatma Gandhi: Trust the Congress party.
Anil Padmanabhan is deputy managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org