An inclusive vision for India, opening up several systems in the country, and the creation of jobs are top priorities for India’s future, according to Indian politician Rahul Gandhi.
Gandhi is vice president of the Indian National Congress party, chairperson of the Indian Youth Congress, and is currently serving as a Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha from Amethi, Uttar Pradesh.
According to Gandhi, the process of transforming India began several decades ago and has accelerated over the past 25 years. The Gandhi family has been involved in Indian national politics for a similarly long time.
Gandhi said that democracy has eroded the caste structure in India, though the erosion has not been fast enough. He explained that progress in the Indian economy has been notable, but that increasing inequality has plagued its development. He added that even though the country has performed decently, its problems are changing, its demands are increasing, and what was done previously to address national plagues is not going to be good enough to ameliorate the situation at present.
“India’s central challenge since '91 is how does this movement progress — and how do we go from a rural economy to a modern urban economy?” Gandhi explained.
There are differences in the performance of each state, Gandhi explained, and many aspects of life in India that are excellent at the higher level, like education and healthcare, may be doing worse on a state level.
“One thing I would caution you with is taking a lens and placing it over India,” said Gandhi. “Each state is its own little ecosystem. Each state has its own strengths and its own weaknesses.”
Gandhi said that one of the central problems that faces India today is that of job creation.
“A central reason as to why a Mr. Modi arose — and to some extent why a Mr. Trump came — is the question of jobs,” Gandhi said.
According to Gandhi, 30,000 new young people come into the Indian job market every day, but only 450 jobs are created at the same rate. He added that the same people who are angry with the left-leaning coalition of Indian political parties, the United Progressive Alliance, for not delivering those jobs are also going to be angry with Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister.
“There’s anger building up in India right now,” said Gandhi. “We can sense it.”
Gandhi added that no other state has been able to take as many people out of poverty as India has. However, China has a competitive advantage when it comes to blue-collar jobs today. According to Gandhi, India’s inability to create blue-collar jobs and its resulting employment gap is fomenting widespread political tension and dissatisfaction in India.
“If you as a modern country are unable to give people jobs, you cannot give them vision,” Gandhi said.
Gandhi said that he thinks automation and artificial intelligence likely will not remove jobs, just change the nature and structure of jobs.
“I don’t think we’ll live in a world where human beings won’t have anything to do. I think the nature of a job and the nature of education is going to have to change,” he explained. “[The new education system] will be centered much more around concepts than around subjects.”
Gandhi added that the second issue facing India is huge migration to cities without the necessary infrastructure to accommodate the population pressure. Scaling up healthcare and education to meet the growing demand of a ballooning population strains policymakers in India today, and improving gender equality is another challenge facing the country.
Gandhi also highlighted the difficulty of opening up systems and decentralizing power.
“If you look at our national government and our state government, too few people control far too much,” Gandhi said.
According to Gandhi, decentralizing the judicial system — and forcing district and state courts to take some cases to the Supreme Court — could also increase its efficiency.
“India immediately tries to consolidate power. And good governance is about stopping that,” Gandhi said. He explained that he thinks there isn't an expertise problem in India, but rather a lack of information — one that hinders people from becoming experts.
Gandhi also commented on the party currently in power in India.
“25 years, India has had a good record. But whether it was a UPA time or a NDA time – I mean, we did slightly better than the NDA — but the job numbers are nowhere near where they should be. And that is the crux,” Gandhi said.
Gandhi said that he agrees with Modi’s government on a few issues such as Make in India, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) , and broad economic policy; though, his implementation would be different.
For Make in India, Gandhi said that he would target small and medium businesses instead of big businesses like Modi. Unlike Modi, Gandhi said that he tried to push for uniform GST instead of its five-level system, and for slower implementation. However, Gandhi said that both parties had similar views on economic issues, such as liberalization.
“We feel like it is dangerous if India doesn’t carry everybody. And that is the central difference between us and the BJP,” Gandhi said.
“To me, the single biggest achievement of the Congress party — and I say this from Gandhiji’s days — is giving everyone a vision… India’s strength has always been the ability to embrace people and allow them to flourish inside our system. And that today is being challenged inside India,” Gandhi said.
He explained that some communities in India, such as a belt of tribal people, some states, and some minority communities, feel like they are not included in the vision for India.
“[India] lives in a volatile neighborhood. If we alienate our own people, it opens up space for people to do mischief,” Gandhi said, emphasizing that every person must see themselves in the national vision, or they'll start looking for another.
“We were in power for 10 years. And in 2014, we had a vision that began in 2004. And in 2012, we felt that vision had run into trouble,” Gandhi said of his party’s plan for the country.
He said that the new party vision will focus on how to solve the job problem and how to improve education, healthcare, and agriculture. He added that the vision will be built bottom up by talking to stakeholders — even students.
“Whenever India has made big shifts, it has always done so on the back of [non-Indian residents]," he added. "You have a huge role to play and I would like for you to be involved in that.”
He added that he would like to push forward a transformation of the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha, open up processes to students, Members of Parliament, and Members of Legislative Assembly to set up laws, and set up processes for people and experts from outside India to come in and help the country.
As for India's international relationships, Gandhi said that he was watching the rise of China and was looking to figure out how to compete with them in creating jobs. He also stressed the advantages of a strategic relationship with the United States while maintaining India’s traditional balanced relationships with countries like Russia, China, and Iran.
Gandhi’s talk was moderated by physics professor Shivaji Sondhi. It took place on Tuesday at 4:45 p.m. and was sponsored by the Center for International Security Studies.