Rahul Gandhi touts entitlement politics, Moily delivers
Given the first job of any general is to charge his troops, the Congress vice-president delivered, with probably his most impassioned speech ever, reeling off each Act his party had introduced over the years to both ‘attack’ the ‘system’ as well as to empower the aam aadmi, though for obvious reasons Rahul Gandhi never used the term. As has been the case with most of Gandhi’s speeches, this one at the AICC session in the capital on Friday, peppered with witticisms about how the latest entrants to politics were selling haircuts to bald men—beating even the BJP which, he joked, only sold combs to bald men—also sought to cement his outsider role within an insensitive system. A system which, he said, did not allow the voices of ordinary party workers, even MLAs and MPs to be heard—power, he said, tended to be in the hands of just a few people, suggesting AAP’s crowd-sourcing model was something Gandhi planned to use in the weeks ahead. Apart from the insider-outsider imagery, the idea of conducting US-style primaries to select candidates for 15 Lok Sabha seats strengthened this impression.
The Right to Information Act, Gandhi said, empowered people who finally got to know just what was happening inside the government; MGNREGA empowered the poor so that no one could refuse a poor man a job anymore; the Food Security Act empowered them so that no one could refuse them a meal anymore; invoking the memory of his father who said just 15% of money spent in the name of the poor actually reached them, Gandhi said Aadhaar-based cash transfers were the single-largest such system in the world that was designed to give to people the money that actually belonged to them. And so on.
Whether this resonates as well with voters as it did with the party faithful on Friday needs to be seen, but apart from token references to economic growth, Gandhi’s speech was worrying in that the imagery it invoked was of dole, dole and more dole—it didn’t help that, after he made the demand for raising the annual cap on the number of subsidised LPG cylinders from 9 to 12, petroleum ministerVeerappa Moily said this would be done and the Cabinet would take a decision on it next week. And while Gandhi spoke of Aadhaar-based cash transfers in glowing terms, this only highlighted the problem with his party’s government going slow on implementing this and, instead, promising a huge increase in food subsidies delivered through the 85%-leaking system. Equally worrying, while seeking to invoke the Congress party’s deep and historical commitment to empowering the common man, Gandhi cited bank nationalisation as one of the steps taken to benefit the common man and, in the process, also demonised big business. And while exhorting party workers to play to their strengths and tell voters what the party had done for them, one of the points mentioned was the waiver of agricultural loans in the past. Since stump speeches are more about raising passions, Gandhi did a good job. But unlike the AAP, or the BJP, which are not in power, he needs to show some action. While promising Congress-ruled states would change the APMC Act by January 15—3 days ago—was one such, getting the government to speed up implementation of Aadhaar-based transfers would go a long way in convincing voters he means business.