I happened to listen to All-India Congress Committee general secretary Rahul Gandhi live on the TV when he addressed tribals in Lanjigarh in western Orissa yesterday. His combative speech, short and crisp, delivered the underlying message loud and clear. Development cannot be at the cost of people. He said he believed in development that did not ignore the voices of people. "In my religion, all are equal -- whether it is rich or poor, Dalits or Adivasis. Wherever as individual's voice is being stifled, that is against my religion."
Two days ago, Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh had rejected environment clearance for the London-based Vedanta bauxite mining project in Orissa.
Meanwhile, against the backdrop of the continuing protests against acquisition of land for Yamuna Expressway in Uttar Pradesh, farmers protest reached the out gates of Indian Parliament in New Delhi yesterday. Backed by political parties of all hues -- Congress, BJP, CPM/CPI, JD(U), TDP, BJP and Akali Dal -- and led by Ajit Singh of Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the demand for a new law for land acquisition gained political strength.
Speaking at the impressive rally, Ajit Singh said: "Yesterday, the prime minister announced that such a law will be introduced in the next session after a meeting with Rahul Gandhi. He should understand that he is not the prime minister for just Rahul Gandhi. He is my prime minister, your prime minister."
Is he people's prime minister? I very much doubt.
In my understanding, Manmohan Singh is the prime minister only of the industry and for the industry. He is a victim of the illusion created by GDP growth. Rahul Gandhi on the other hand has made him see the ground reality a number of times, and I appreciate his (Rahul Gandhi's) role in making the prime minister do certain things that he would otherwise never do.
Rahul Gandhi has often highlighted the real divide between the 'rich India and the poor India.' As he said in Orissa yesterday: "There are two India's -- Ameeron ka Hindustan (India of the rich) whose voices reach everywhere, and the Garibon ka Hindustan (India of the poor) whose voices are seldom heard.... Two years ago, you had come to me saying the Niyamgiri hill is your god. I told you I would be your soldier in Delhi. I am happy that I have helped you in whatever way I could. What is important is that your voice was heard without violence."
This is not the first time he has emphasised on the great divide. As the Indian Express says today (Aug 27, 2010) in a front page box:
His 2-India Refrain
Parliament, Budget Debate, 2008-09: There are two distinct voices among India's people today. The louder of these voices comes from an India that is empowered .. the other voice is yet to be empowered. The two Indias are fundamentally inseparable.
Kolkata, April 2009: it angers me when I think that there are people who have more money than anyone else in the world. And there are people who don't have food.
Ranchi, October 2009: Two Indias have been created. One India is yours and my India, the India of opportunity...the other is of villages where opportunities are very rare.
Kanker (Chattisgarh), July 2010: There are two parts of India. One part is the part you see in urban areas, growing very fast. There is another part of India, a forgotten part of India, and tribals, Adivasis and Dalits are part of it.
I have often been asked whether the sympathy that Rahul Gandhi for the poor and marginalised is only for winning elections. I am not sure what he has in his mind or why is he doing it but what is quite visible is that here is someone who is making the effort to not only reach out to the children of the lesser gods but also trying to understand them. Knowing his political future, the safe pathway that he has in front of him, it wasn't necessary for him to venture out into the countryside.
Having said that, I think Rahul Gandhi's actions and pronouncements (ostensibly backed by his mother Sonia Gandhi) are indicative of two faces within Congress party. One is the more visible and exploitative Corporate face -- led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Home Minister P Chidambaram and the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia -- and with most of the Cabinet ministers lending support, and for obvious reasons; the other is more sensitive to the existing ground realities, and is led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, supported by Rahul Gandhi, Digvijay Singh, Jairam Ramesh and Mani Shanker Aiyer.
After being mesmerised by the growth figures for quite long, I think Sonia Gandhi has now begun to realise that all is not well. Growth is not only leading to widening of inequalities, but is also at the foundation for the growing socio-economic unrest. I am aware that if it were not for Sonia Gandhi, the UPA would have never approved NREGA, the Rs 71,000-crore farm loan waiver, refusing permission for a series of small dams on Ganga, and striking down the Vedanta mining project. The moratorium on India's first poisonous food crop -- Bt brinjal -- also was backed by 10 Janpath.
Now this does not in any way undermine the historic role played by tribal communities and people's movements across the country. I think behind the political realisation of the importance of environmental protection is the non-violent struggle by the masses for several years and in several parts of the country. They have succeeded somewhere, but have failed at most places. But slowly and steadily the world is beginning to realise that the poor are not merely an obstruction in development. They are the losers, and they need to be heard.
I for one would continue to support the mass struggles, and be part of the great awakening that emanates from Garibon ka Hindustan. This is where the future of any great country lies.