Taking on Narendra Modi on his home turf, Rahul Gandhi hints at a new direction for congress

Sometimes it is bang in the middle of a tough fight that a politician discovers his direction and design his discourse. The evidence of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi raising the ruling BJPs heckles in Gujrat came when it drafted Amit Shah, Smriti Irani and Yogi Adityanath to speak of the neglect of the Amethi just when he was drawing cheers and whistling at his jibes on the Narendra Modi government.

It is not just about Rahul drawing crowds that has pushed a panic reaction in the BJP. Of course, that itself is a news, given that this is happening in Narendra Modi prized state carefully nurtured over 22 years. But its also because he is hitting at the very vitals of the prime minister’s decision and policies, and in the process, delineating and fine-tuning the Congress party’s long-term direction towards a welfare state with shades of Nehruvian socialism. And he is finding a connect, that too in Gujrat.

It is again not just a reaction to what Modi is doing, he also expands on his theory in his various interactions with students, youth, farmers, women, attached to milk cooperatives health ASHA workers.

This is beside Rahul’s own take on free speech and democratic values. Criticising the RSS for its patriarchal “attitude of keeping women quiet”, he said at an interaction with youngsters in Vadodara city, known for its vibrant academics value, “I am too much on the other side, personally. All kinds of criticism should be allowed and welcome, even if it is unpleasant and has mistakes. I don’t believe in suppressing anyone.” He said he was for a free flow of all opinions, even if it was the harshest.

Albeit, while making this point, Rahul went overboard and asked the crowd if they had seen women wearing shorts going to RSS shakhas and may have given away an issue to the BJP on a platter. He took a moral democratic high to say high to say, again at another interaction in Vadodara, that the BJP might speak of a Congress-free India but he would never say something like that about BJP since both the political parties are ideologies born in the same country and that this had nothing to do with him fighting the BJP politically.

The direction that Rahul seems to be discovering for the future was evident from his views against privatization in the crucial education and health sectors, which according to him, was the responsibility of the state.

He was surprised that there was capitation fee in Gujrat when a homeopathy student said he paid Rs 4 Lakh as “off the record donation” beside his regular fees of an equal amount in a self-financed private college. Rahul had a similar experience both in upmarket Vadodara city and the tribal Chhota Udaipur region on self-financed private colleges.
At both places, he asked if they got jobs after spending on capitalisation fees and the reply was in the negative.

“Not just in Gujrat. This is happening everywhere, privatization of education,” making it tough for the poor to avail. Rahul pointed out that after paying huge fees, there aren’t adequate jobs. He made a candid admission here that the performance of the UPA was much better than the present government on the job front, but was still not adequate and needed to be much better. Rahul has similar views on the health sector, where Gujrat has adopted a public-private-partnership for the upgrade of the government hospitals.

The first such medical college attached to a government hospital in Palanpur in North Gujrat has been handed over to a public trust where Gujrat Health Minister Shankar Chaudhary is the main trustee. The Aam Aadmi Party has raised this issue with all documents. There are five more such medical colleges in the pipeline.

Rahul also clubbed this issue with the Gujrat government’s policy, which was introduced by Narendra Modi when he was chief minister, outsourced many government jobs including that of teachers, Anganwadi and ASHA workers. Rahul said the Congress party would reverse all this when it comes to power.

On employment generation and overall sense of prosperity, Rahul said Gujrat could show the way forward to the country but not by the oft-touted Gujrat model of pampering a handful of 5 to 10 industrialist”, but by recognizing the strength of the state’s small and medium businesses, including SMEs.

He said, “it is the small and medium businesses which can generate employment” and bring about prosperity. “I am not saying the large industry should be completely ignored, but it can’t be ceded the complete space as is happening in the name of Gujrat Model,” Rahul said, promising that all this would change under a congress rule.

“Our Gujrat model is the old model of Amul, of Gandhiji and of Sardar,” he said, speaking to women of milk cooperatives and various other places. “We will listen to your Mann Ki Baat and not impose on you,” he repeated at several places.

The congress president-in-walking indeed gave good indications of what is in the mind.

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