Cant allow you to be held back: Rahul Gandhis new tune to India Inc

Written by ENS Economic Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 21 2013, 06:09am hrs
Rahul GandhiRahul Gandhi (Reuters)
It was a radically different Rahul Gandhi who addressed India Inc Saturday, seven months after he had left them bemused with his confused vision of social inclusion, in his first major interaction with them. Addressing a FICCI AGM, the Congress vice-president admitted on Saturday that the UPA government had slipped up on managing economic growth and that without speedy project clearances and labour law reforms to spur growth, poverty cant be cut.

Frankly there is no excuse for the length of time required to clear some of the projects. We are a fast-moving economy. We cannot allow you to be held back by slow decision-making. Accountability has to be clear, fixed and time-bound, said Rahul, surprising the industry leaders present with his growth- and business-friendly tone.

His speech came just hours after Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, accused of blocking several major projects, resigned from the Cabinet, and days after the Congress received a major drubbing in Assembly elections.

Taking a swipe at Natarajan, Rahul identified corruption and arbitrary power as major issues plaguing the country. The biggest problem is absolute arbitrary powers at all levels of the system. This is what we face... the environment minister or chief minister can take any decision he wants...The real issue in all these things, whether land acquisition or environment is arbitrary power.

The country needs to build a rule-based structure and move away from the arbitrary idea that a CM and an environment minister can do anything, the Congress vice-president added.

Rahul also told India Inc that the UPA government was considering a Natural Resource Investment Special Purpose Vehicle, with the aim to obtain all clearances before auctioning projects to private players. This is a powerful and innovative idea. Several projects have been held up in the UPA II government for lack of forest and environment clearances, which fell in Natarajans domain.

Rahul enumerated the steps taken by his government to augment the economy, noting that the Cabinet Committee on Investment had cleared around 300 projects worth over Rs 5 lakh crore, and was focusing on sectors such as petroleum, mining and manufacturing to drive the countrys growth. The government plans to increase the share of manufacturing in GDP to 25 per cent and aims to create 100 million jobs in the process, Rahul said.

He went on to call the industry a stakeholder in the Congress. You are stakeholders in our party since 1931, when Mahatma Gandhi addressed FICCI.

All this was in sharp contrast to Rahuls nearly hour-long speech at the CII AGM in April, where he had not touched on any of the issues bedevilling the economy. Instead, drawing on imagery and anecdotes rather than specifics, he had called for a revamp of the political system to better respond to the needs of Indias 1.2 billion people, and a closer relationship between government and big business.

Apparently egged on by BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who has built for himself the image of a growth man, Rahul Saturday touched on a number of issues, including education, research and development, skilling of workforce, job creation as well as reform of labour laws on a par with international standards.

He also raised the issues of corruption and high inflation, believed to have been primarily responsible for the Congresss rout in Delhi. He called corruption the biggest issue today, which is bleeding the country dry, and added that high inflation was our immediate concern. It hurts people every day.

Acknowledging the lessons of the Assembly poll defeat, Rahul said: A political partys strength lies in the people it represents. We will listen to those voices. We did not hit a six in elections and now I get the sense and know what it feels like when you go to an AGM with bad news.