The biggest round of applause during a session at this year’s Jaipur Literature Festival came after Rahul Gandhi’s name was mentioned, but the claps weren’t in praise of the Congress party’s new Vice President. Instead, the applause rippling beneath a pink awning on the sunny front lawns of Diggi Palace was sparked when panelist Edward Luce said Mr. Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, didn’t understand the problems facing India. “Rahul Gandhi’s had almost 10 years to demonstrate his understanding of the problems… I think the jury is back in, he doesn’t understand the problems,” said Mr. Luce, who works for the Financial Times and whose books include “In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India.”
Congress party spokesman Rashid Alvi dismissed Mr. Luce’s comments. ” I do not know what he knows of India and Rahul Gandhi. It is absolutely rubbish to say what he did,” Mr. Alvi told India Real Time. “The Congress has a bright future under Rahul Gandhi and India will go places under his leadership,” he added.
Mr. Luce and his fellow panelist Ruchir Sharma, Morgan Stanley’s head of emerging markets and global macroeconomics, agreed that India’s problems include slowing economic growth and difficulties in governance. In India, “the State is the core of the problem and the core of the solution,” Mr. Luce said, adding that it should be “pretty easy” to deliver basic services such as roads and education. He is “fairly optimistic” about India’s ability to return to high economic growth rates.
Mr. Sharma added that India’s challenges with governance stem from a centralised power structure that doesn’t fit with the social fabric of a hugely diverse country.
He, too, was muted when it came to India’s ability to return to 7 per cent to 8 per cent gross domestic product growth a year. He welcomed a recalibration in expectations now that growth has come closer to 5 per cent, but warned that the nation couldn’t be “put on autopilot.” From airplane references he moved to the sea with, “We need to row our own boat now,” and then to land, with a call to follow “the rules of the road.”
These rules, Mr. Sharma said, included further liberalising and opening up the economy, and bringing Government spending under control. He also said that he couldn’t think of a national leader who would transform the country, adding that there’s “too much of an obsession with national leaders.” Still, that brought Mr. Sharma on to the character many expect to come up against Mr. Gandhi for Prime Minister in national elections, likely next year: Narendra Modi. While the Chief Minister of Gujarat has overseen impressive development in the northwestern State – “India’s answer to China in many ways” – he struggles to have much of an impact on voters elsewhere. Modi’s problem is that he is “so strongly associated with a State,” he said.
But that doesn’t let Rahul Gandhi off the hook. The moderator of the panel, former Procter & Gamble chief executive Gurcharan Das, followed Mr. Luce’s comments with the observation that Mr. Gandhi no longer identifies with India’s common man, or “aam aadmi,” a group that is changing and has new aspirations. If it’s any consolation to Mr. Gandhi, Mr. Das added that the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party doesn’t recognise this change either.
Preetika Rana contributed to this post.
Source : India Real Time