New Delhi: In a rare interview with Editor-in-Chief of National Herald, Neelabh Mishra, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi singles out unemployment & steady exodus of people from rural areas to cities as the biggest challenge. The excerpts from the National Herald India.
It was a hot, May morning when the Congress Vice President invited us for a chat. We scrambled. Photo Editor Pramod Pushkarna had just returned from his morning walk. Editorial colleague Vishwadeepak, a night bird, had just woken up. But we made it on time. At the appointed hour Rahul Gandhi walked in dressed in a casual off white shirt and blue jeans, followed by two playful canine companions, who sat down quietly at his feet as we began the conversation. They would look up every now and then, demanding a pat or a light touch from him.
He exuded warmth and playfulness, a smile lighting up his face occasionally. But for the most duration he was thoughtful, replying to questions without hesitation and with a bluntness that caught us by surprise. What did he think of India and its challenges 70 years after Independence?
Here are replies to some of the questions we put to him.What in your view are the big challenges facing the country today?
The biggest challenge is dangerously clear: not enough jobs are being created. Today, China has become the most efficient job producer in the world- over 12 million new jobs each year for the last five years. Neither the West nor India has developed a response to this challenge. Young people are asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi what happened to his promise – his countless promises, almost every second sentence of the Prime Minister is a feverish promise – of creating two crore jobs a year? Yet all the PM has given India is the highest level of unemployment we’ve faced in the last five years. One or two lakh jobs per year, is simply not enough to meet the aspirations of our people.Doesn’t jobless growth put us at some kind of risk of social unrest as we are witnessing?
Not some kind of risk, it puts us in a very alarming state of vulnerability. In the last 40-50 years, both India and China have witnessed a massive population shift from rural to urban areas.
People from villages have been migrating in large numbers to towns and big cities, hoping for a better life and better job opportunities . This transition is a terrifying experience because once people arrive in the city, they find that they have no access to jobs, education or healthcare.
They have left their village behind; their social groups, solidarity networks and friendships are gone. They have no way of going back because their home and their agriculture have been destroyed in order to pave their way to the city. All that was familiar to them is lost. Imagine the tremendous anxiety and fear that these internal migrants face – it’s shattering.
The ideology that drives PM Modi, the RSS and BJP uses this anxiety and insecurity to spread anger and hatred. They convert this anxiety into hatred against Muslims, Dalits, other minorities and marginalized people forcing two people – brothers – with common interests and dreams to go into combat with each other. But anger and hatred will not convert into jobs, or solutions. Once this engine of hatred starts, you cannot control it.
The PM has clearly demonstrated that he is not interested in halting this hatred, rather he feeds off it. In his speeches, he tells the people that India was the greatest country 5,000 years ago. With great vigour he speaks of mythical flying chariots, ancient plastic surgery and genetic science. Our PM repeats again and again that the future is in the past. But you cannot build a nation on memory alone. We need imagination to move forward. Where is the imagination for India now? I see neither a vision nor compassion anywhere in this present government.But was the UPA government able to cope with this challenge?
The UPA built an architecture to ease the pain of this transition by creating a safety net of protection around every citizen, designed to peacefully take the country forward. It had components such as MGNREGA– a job guarantee of a minimum 100 days in a year. A young man who uprooted his life to transition to the city was not abandoned, left without hope or opportunity with the safety net of MGNREGA supporting him. Right to Food was to provide food security for everybody so no child in our country lay down at night hungry. Right to Education gave people a future: the hope that their children would have access to good quality education. Right to Information was to ensure transparency and freedom of access.
Ultimately the aspirations that our own policies unleashed overran the ability of the architecture to deliver – creating and stabilising such large infrastructure takes time – but directionally it was the way forward. I am happy to see that over the last three years despite their loud and critical speeches, the BJP government may have changed some of their names, but it has not been able to shut down the UPA’s flagship programs–MGNREGA, UID, RTI, RTE, RTF.What is your vision for the Congress Party?
The Congress Party sees politics as a process. It is a consensus-making structure that allows conversations to thrive by bringing in a large number of voices. It is designed for listening. It is perhaps the only party that has changed itself continually according to the needs of the times. A party that gave the country bank nationalisation also liberalised the economy two decades later. We were successful because we listened to the people. This is at the core of the Congress culture, we listen to the people and make policies accordingly.
The BJP talks but they cannot think. Worse, they refuse to listen. For a people so entrenched in the past and so frightened of the future, they don’t realise that gradually people will run out of patience for their hollow words and unfulfilled promises.What is your idea of development? What should be a balanced approach to it?
The current government has a very narrow, personal idea of development. For them giving benefits to a handful of people and business cronies is development of the whole country. For me inclusiveness is a priority. I take inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi. The welfare of the last man is the only parameter for me.But how will the Congress deal with damage that has already been done and change the current narrative?
I am a believer. I believe in the resilience of our country. The idea of India is at its core about forgiveness and embracing difference. And that is the fundamental idea of Hinduism too. Gandhi’s credo was – I embrace and I forgive. He did not hate anyone, not even the British. He refused to give in to anger. People ask me – what is Congressiya? A true Congressperson is someone who cannot carry hatred or anger, and loves and respects the plurality of our nation. Hate can only distract India from the real task at hand. # Source: The National Herald, By Neelabh Mishra