Eyeing 2019 election, Rahul Gandhi sets focus on small businesses

Congress President Rahul Gandhi in a panel at International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), in London on Friday | Photo: Reuters
Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday said China created 50,000 jobs a day while the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government in India managed to provide employment to only 450 in the same period. On a two-day visit to London, Rahul Gandhi was addressing an interactive session at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a prestigious think-tank.

Attired in a kurta-pyjama, the leader of the main Opposition party answered a question about what economic policies the Congress would follow if it came to power in 2019. “The economic policy will be similar in trajectory to (former Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh’s,” he said, adding: “We will focus on small and medium businesses.” 

He also said the focus of the banking system and of government support needed to shift to developing small industries. “We will focus on agriculture, construction, building houses, bringing technology to agriculture, building a food chain and connecting farms to markets,” he added.

Rahul Gandhi also spoke of the stressed assets problem affecting the banking system in the country.

“Indian banks have Rs 12.5 trillion of NPAs (non-performing assets). Indian banks are jam-shut because of the NPAs, basically belonging to 15-20 industrialists,” he said, adding that Modi’s ploy of “funding 15-20 top businesses was not going to create jobs”.

An official from the American embassy in Britain asked how Congress would bridge the gap between Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) and Congress’s funds, and change the leaning of businessmen towards the BJP. 

Rahul Gandhi said: “You’ll be surprised at the mood of the business community in India today. They expected a tremendous amount from Mr Modi, but he failed them. They are terrified of saying this publicly. There’s an immense amount of pressure from the Central Bureau of Investigation, from the Enforcement Directorate.” 

Among his unannounced engagements on Friday was a closed-door meeting with 24 businessmen at the exclusive Royal Automobile Club at Pall Mall. 

Rahul Gandhi said in 2019, with the alliance that was taking shape in Uttar Pradesh, the Opposition would command 60 per cent of votes in the state and the “BJP cannot win five seats”, out of the 80 in the Lok Sabha. In 2014, the BJP had won 73 seats.

Rahul Gandhi, who has a Masters degree in economics from Trinity College, Cambridge, called for a programme of decentralisation. He also spoke of “breaking” what he described as the “monopoly” of the Ministry of External Affairs, by providing access to think tanks, “new voices”, to formulate foreign policy. 

He did not specify whether the talent from think-tanks should be inducted into the Indian Foreign Service or serve contract periods in it.

“Not only is there a monopoly of the foreign ministry there also is the monopoly of the Prime Minister’s Office on the foreign ministry,” he said, adding External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was a “capable lady”, but she “has nothing better to do than look after visas”. 

With fears of Brexit going through without a deal, Rahul Gandhi was predictably asked about it. He said, “I have more questions, frankly… than answers.”

He met MPs and peers in the Houses of Parliament at an event hosted by the longest serving Indian-origin MP in the British House of Commons, Keith Vaz, and the Indian Overseas Congress (IOC). On Saturday, he will speak at a working lunch with Indian Journalists’ Association (Europe) and address an IOC rally at Ruislip near London.

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