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When the Head is Held High

“Power (in India) will go in the hands of rascals, rogues and free booters. Not a bottle of water or a loaf of bread shall escape taxation; only the air will be free. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight among themselves for power, and India will be lost in political squabbles”

-Winston Churchill just before India's Independence.

In retrospect Churchill was a great statesman, but the worst prophet.

When the British Left India , our forex reserves were $2,161 million, Now they are  $ 296,540 million.

 In 1950-51 India’s per capita income was Rs 271.60, today it is Rs 67045

Certainly, the Indian National Congress which has ruled India for over 52 years (now) out of 65 years since independence has to be given the credit for this massive turnaround.  Of Course, if it takes credit for the Economic Change, then it should also take ownership for all the failures in our socio-politico-economic conditions.  But re-reading what Churchill had professed makes the successes loom large over the failures.  Despite  and a hostile  neighbourhood, India has progressed like no other country in its region and in Asia.

India with all its inherent contradictions, with all its problems and systemic flaws has become the Second Fastest Growing Nation in the World, Third Largest Economy in the World, and will become the Second Largest Economy by 2050. This is no joke when you compare India's Economy to 1947.

The UPA Government headed by the Congress Party since past 8 years has substantially contributed to the growth of India. UPA in its first term (with a shorter mandate) clinched a growth of 8.4% for 5 years. This, despite,  global economic crises of 2008. The Second Term of UPA (from 2009) however, has been battling the second global turmoil and internal policy freeze. The main stream media along with civil society unrest demanding transparency in 2011 has created a situation, which has resulted in delay of several decisions, policy deliberations, legislative business, even administrative ones. Our fractured polity with its coalition politics, an obstructionist opposition and some opportunist allies has made sure that the UPA does not repeat the kind of historic legislations (RTI, NREGA, NHRM etc) it had passed earlier and gained people’s mandate for a second term.

Despite these severe constraints the 11th Year Plan (5 year plan) Results are self explanatory.  

  • GDP growth in the Eleventh Plan 2007-08 to 2011-12 was 7.9 per cent compared to 7.6 per cent in the Tenth Plan (2002-03 to 2006-07) and only 5.7 per cent in the Ninth Plan (1997-98 to 2001-02).
  • Agricultural GDP growth accelerated in the Eleventh Plan, to an average rate of 3.3. per cent, compared with 2.4 per cent in the Tenth Plan, and 2.5 per cent in the Ninth Plan
  • The rate of unemployment declined from 8.2 per cent in 2004-05 to 6.6 per cent in 2009-10 reversing the trend observed in the earlier period when it had actually increased from 6.1 per cent in 1993-94 to 8.2 per cent in 2004-05. 
  • Net enrolment rate at the primary level rose to a near universal 98.3 per cent in 2009-10. Dropout rate (classes I-VIII) also showed improvements, falling 1.7 ppt per year between 2003-04 and 2009-10, which was twice the 0.8 ppt fall between 1998-99 and 2003-04.
All these statistics are noteworthy ,specially considering the cross roads where the Congress Party finds itself in the present context.  The Congress had contested the 2009 General Elections with the triumvirate- Dr. Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as party’s mascots, continuing its strong emphasis on the “Aam Aadmi” – Its slogan was

“Aam Aadmi Ke Badhte Kadam, Har Kadam Par Bharat Buland”

Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh may be 80 now, but he still works 16 hours a day.  Although seen as a rather apolitical PM, his political shrewdness has on occasions made a distinct mark. First as we all know was the Nuclear Deal Moment – where he dumped the Communists opposed to the deal , took on them by aligning with the most unexpected ally- Samajwadi Party , by shear political grit, persuasion and some amount of dinner diplomacy.

Now If Someone asks you, what happened to that Deal?  Here’s a quick ready reckoner
India has signed Civil Nuclear Agreements with 8 more countries - France, Canada, Russia, Belgium, Nigeria, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and South Korea. Talks are on with Germany, Japan and Australia. The success of UPA’s international  civil nuclear initiative was manifest in the highest ever generation of electricity from nuclear power, last year at 32455 million units.  UPA in its tenure has built 7 new Nuclear Reactors.

This is the vision and achievement of our "silent" Prime Minister. “Silent” because a large section of media has started questioning his silence - sometimes without even listening to him. Even a section of International media had cast certain derogatory labels on him, few months ago, the PM took this criticism in his stride. 

“Hazaaron Jawabon Se AcchiHaiMeriKhamoshi, Na Jaane Kitne Sawaalon Ki Aabru Rakhe”

The above couplet was recited by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to the media awaiting his word, when he was not allowed to speak in Parliament due to the constant slogan shouting and ruckus on coal block allocation irregularities. Later enroute to Delhi from the NAM summit, when asked about the opposition strategy of "paralyzing" the Parliament, he said that he has to maintain the dignity of his office and he will not indulge in a "tu-tu , main-main" duel with the opposition. 

 In a personal blog few months ago, I had debunked the theory about PM Not communicating to the country. With facts and figures it was proved that the PM is making an effort to address the Nation as much as possible.

The second definite occasion on which Dr. Manmohan Singh made a political point is when after waiting for 11 months in deliberating a policy decision with the stakeholders – particularly parties that were awry of the policy – He got the FDI in Multibrand Retail implemented . This however was at a political cost .The TMC walked out of the UPA – But Manmohan Singh played some real politik and brought Mayawati on board. The BSP supported the decision in the Rajya Sabha. The SP also tacitly helped the Govt by walking out of the Parliament.  UPA promised Mayawati their commitment to the promotion in quota bill, thereby getting an important policy which benefits lakhs of small farmers, creating jobs and eliminating middlemen . Most importantly, creating backend  infrastructure in our villages. 

UPA also cleared a slew of Second Generation Reforms –FDI in Aviation, FDI in Broadcasting Sector, Power Exchanges,. Cabinet also approved FDI in Pension and Insurance, Computerisation of PDS, ICDS etc.. It also recently passed the Companies Bill (in LokSabha) and the Banking Amendments Act.
The PM has also fast tracked the whole process of Direct Cash Transfer Scheme based on Aadhaar, which has been started in 43 districts on pilot basis. The roll out will begin from January 1, 2013 and half the districts of the country will be covered by April, 2013.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who has been emphatic and rather strong in supporting Dr. Singh also pitched in. In a recent rally at Ram Lila Maidan, New Delhi, attended by a huge crowd, Sonia Gandhi exhorted that “Congress’ heart is clear, Its conscious is clear. It does not need to run from any answers ”
The rally was a show of strength by the party, when the main stream media has substantially downgraded the image of the UPA Govt over past 3 years as well as an attempt by its top leadership to educate its cadres that the tough measures such as limiting subsidized LPG cylinders, increase in Petrol Prices were taken in the larger National Interest. 

 Sonia Gandhi roared to the ocean of the crowd that Congress will protect the country from the obstructionist opposition and vested groups – “Our Opponents want to destabilize the very foundations of our democracy and Its only Congress which can do good for this nation… Have you seen any government in modern India, till today who has worked equally for both urban and rural India?”
This is certainly true to an extent.

The NAC which she heads has been instrumental in passing historic “Right based” legislations like Mahatma Gandhi NREGA, Right to Information Act (RTI), Right to Education Act (RTE) , NHRM, Forests Act, JNNURM etc  have changed the face of India. There is certainly a degree of visible change demonstrated by a larger spending and employment in our rural areas.  Govt under her constant direction has increased the amount of spending on social sector schemes, despite some valid concerns on the fiscal deficit front as well as rising inflation.

If one logs on to NAC website – One can see a monthly press release on the diversity of issues – deliberated and passed by the NAC working groups. Except when Mrs. Gandhi was ill in 2011- did these releases stop for few months.

 The Lokpal Bill, 2011 ,Grievances Redressal  Bill, Foreign Bribery Bill, Judicial Accountability Bill, Whistleblower's  Protection Bill, Public Procurement Bill, Shedding Discretionary powers of Constitutional post holders ,Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2011, The Prevention of Money Laundering (Amendment) Bill, 2011, The Electronic Delivery of Services Bill are at various stages of Parliamentary Approval

As far as questions on the role of Mrs. Gandhi as the Congress President is concerned, Congress is now ruling in 13 States of India, BJP in 6. So Electorally Still – Congress has an upper hand. Its vote share in each state election held after 2009 has always increased. It has grassroots problems in several states which it hasn’t ruled in decades and that is one problem which the Congress headed by Sonia Gandhi has not been able to solve yet.

It is now imperative to look at the third and perhaps the most important pillar of this triumvirate. Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi. It is true that in 8 years of public life he has been working behind the scenes in the party. NSUI and the IYC have substantially reformed their electoral processes, with constant elections in state after state. There is a genuine attempt by him to " Democratize " these organisations in true sense. Youth Congress' social media presence can also be gauged by its website which is a "Social Network" in its own. Some visible results were seen when almost two dozen young MP's belonging to the Youth Congress got elected in 2009.

Rahul Gandhi has been criticized on two major counts – One for only making photo-ops for the media , but not talking to the media. Other for not increasing the tally of the Congress party in which the grass root organization of the party has significantly weakened. The first one is more of an independent decision of a public personality. He has chosen a slow and steady style of functioning which believes that “Let my work do the talking”. He does have press conferences when he campaigns for states – maximum number of times he had was during Uttar Pradesh Elections- where rather aggressively he used to answer every question of the media, often answering questions in unconventional ways. Yes he does not gives one-on-one interviews- but that does not mean- he does not speak his mind. May be he prefers directly talking to the people. He has spoken at times in Parliament on important issues –appreciated and criticized at the same time.  This criticism is rather true. He has spoken about “How there are “Two Indias” and how he would want that to change. The youth of India would like to listen to his vision for the country more, But this does not happen frequently.  For 8 years, the young aspirational  India is trying hard to listen to him, but Rahul Gandhi seem to fail on that front. It now seems an uphill task to refurbish his image and a lot of political and personal effort would be required from him.

The second criticism however is utterly false. It is true that Congress lost the most important election on which Rahul Gandhi had staked his career- Uttar Pradesh. But that he publically accepted. The other state elections which his critics potray are Bihar,West Bengal, Tamil Nadu etc. This is actually a bogus charge to make . The fact is in Bihar- The Congress was never in the reckoning. It announced its party’s manifesto when the third phase of elections already got over. It has no real presence there- Just has 2 MP’s

One of the major achievements of  Rahul Gandhi, however is his National (pan-India) appeal. We should not forget that Congress increased its 2009 Lok Sabha tally to 206 – And a substantial number of MP’s came from Uttar Pradesh – Infact under Rahul Gandhi – Congress in UP has maximum number of MP’s as of now. (22)

The Indian National Congress, last month is celebrating  its 128th foundation year. But the present crises does not auger well for any true celebration. As you read this, a 23 year old gangrape and assault victim has succumbed to her injuries. There is genuine outrage in the streets, people are demanding answers from the government. Especially in the capital, wherever you go – on a metro, or a bus, or a chai stall, in offices, people are discussing this case. People are outraged, but some vested interests have also started politicizing the issue. Congress is at a very significant crossroad.

It has nothing to lose- and everything to gain from this case- by making it a watershed event.
An  event which can change the course of our society for the better. There is a pressing need to reform our administration, judiciary and police. The whole criminal justice system needs to be looked at in a dispassionate manner and only Congress which  has created the system – good or bad – is best suited to answer. If Congress presents a blueprint of tangible reforms in our “System” which can start showing results – people will reinforce their trust in the Congress.

The Congress is the Natural Party for Governance in India, people have huge expectations from it, therefore, when Congress makes mistakes or doesn’t deliver, people tend to blame the Congress more , more than they blame any other party. People expect from Congress, so they are more disappointed whenever it fails. People do not expect from other parties as much, as they expect from the Congress.
With so many achievements and with so much understanding of the “System” – It is the Congress which can usher in the real change.

" Where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high … "

The Writer is an Architect based in Delhi and his twitter handle is @rachitseth ,the Essay can also be found at Hamara Congress


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