Congress leaders are pushing the media to hail Rahul Gandhi’s return to active leadership of his party as the Second Coming of a political ‘prince’. A rally in Delhi is followed by a surge into Punjab to commiserate with the farmers who lost their wheat crop, a dash into Vidarbha among the orange growers, reiteration of the party’s pro-poor stand and a well-staged standing by house owners as against the builders and similar sequels.
Stories of how Gandhi has regenerated after a 56-day sabbatical in as yet undisclosed location are meant to hone the aura being built up around the party’s next generation leader before the actual anointing as the new chief, after his mother held the post since 1998, are flooding the media. The party cadre is electrified by the Rahul war cry, we are told. Intrinsic to this orchestrated campaign to corner the one-year old Modi Government is the unstated but widely expected goal of the Grand Old Party to anoint the ‘prince’ as the next head of the outfit.
Looked at from the way the party’s chota leaders are now hailing these forays of the heir apparent into farmer territory, it’s is obvious the coronation is only a few weeks away. But recall how some of these very leaders were poking fun at the wooden face of the man and his uninspiring words only a few months before the sabbatical that Gandhi took at the beginning of the Budget Session of Parliament.
The ‘prince’ had lost his halo with the complete humiliation of the party last year in May, when it failed to get even the statutory 10 per cent of the Lok Sabha’s strength of 542 to get the position as the main Opposition. Voices rose that the party must find a new leader and some even said outside the first family that had retained control over the party for most of the years after the demise of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in 1950.
The ‘prince’, when his party’s government was in power, would not hesitate to overrule publicly his own Government’s Prime Minister, found that even many senior leaders now were insisting that his mother continue to rule the roost in the party rather than hand over power to him. The leaders found fault with the election campaign the party conducted under his leadership, the lifeless advertisements he authorised, and the large gap that pre-poll surveys revealed between Modi and him as the prospective man to lead the country.
Even openly, voices were raised that the party ranks would prefer his sister Priyanka Vadra to him for the leadership. That, despite the fact that she had the albatross of the Vadra land deals weighing down her neck. A fresh break was needed for the ‘prince’ to claim his inheritance. The selective disappearance from public view was inevitable for regaining at least some of the halo the family claimed and the partymen had worshipped.
The propaganda to debunk the Modi Government’s proposed amendments to the Land Bill as anti-farmer will soon face questions from the ground to the Congress party itself, questions that would be embarrassing for it. After all the Modi Government has not even completed one year in power. Noted agricultural economists like Ashok Gulati are saying that the basic cause of rural distress is the “decreasing size of the land holding over a period of time”. That period of time is as large as 60 years during which it was the Congress that was in power most of the time. What has happened over these six decades?
To quote Gulati at a recent discussion with two other economists: “The average holding size is 1.5 ha. Even if you have irrigated land, even if you are having two crops a year you cannot feed a family on that. We have to think about what we have to do with our land laws and how to increase the size of the holding to a more economically viable unit. Land lease markets will have to be freed and people will have to move out of agriculture.” For this fundamentally depressing state of affairs developed over 60 years of Congress rule, Mr Gandhi, claiming the inheritance of his party, must apologise to the country’s farming community instead of trying to be their champion and go about criticising the Modi Government as being anti-farmer.
As Gulati has said, basic change in rural India can only be possible by moving people out of agriculture into more paying, more satisfying, construction and other jobs. “The only thing that we need to care about is that it should be a pull factor, i.e., they should be moving to higher productivity jobs for which we need to train them and give them better skills. Non-farm sectors have to grow much faster.” Gulati had earlier headed the Agricultural Costs and Prices Committee of the Union Government, and thus knows what he is speaking.
That is exactly what the NDA Government is trying to do The massive skill development programme on a national scale plus the accelerating of infrastructure and industrialisation plans that would raise industry output from 16 per cent to 25 per cent over the next few years, should raise income of those who eke out a skin and bones living out of the less than one hectare of land they own. Industries and construction projects need land, and the proposed amendments to the land law will only ensure that land use change is easier and transparent, without affecting the compensation that was given in the original act under Gandhi’s party -led UPA Government.