While most people agree that Rahul Gandhi is a charismatic guy, they think that he doesn’t have it in him to turn around the fortunes of his party. At this point, no one knows exactly what he will do. However, there are some hints that he could use. Here’s a list of things that Rahul may want to focus on as he embarks on this difficult, yet hardly impossible, political journey:
On corruption: This is one issue the country is truly fed up with; and while every political party is accused of it, the Congress has to live with the biggest burden. Rahul must convert this perceived deficiency of his party into his biggest opportunity. He must aggressively convey that he will not tolerate corruption in his party and elsewhere. This is easier said than done of course, as there are skeletons in his own party’s closets. It needs patience; attempting it in one go will be disastrous. Here are some specific steps he could take:
a) Rahul has to differentiate between party workers who make money for the party’s requirements and those who make money for their own gain. The latter must be given an outer time limit: say 2016 by which they should turn clean or leave the party. It may sound like forgiving the crimes of the past, but if this ensures that the future is cleaner, it is worth it. The message has to be silently given to the person concerned. For those who take money for party work, Rahul has to work towards changing the electoral funding system. Funding has to be made transparent, and brought above board. Corporates and HNIs must be encouraged to declare their funding; funding should be made tax deductible to a limit. The Election Commission must remove the existing arbitrary spending limits, and insist instead on transparent accounting.
b) The government must become smaller. Most corruption happens at points of interface with the government. In sectors where the government’s role has been reduced, corruption is lesser. Manmohan Singh succeeded in eliminating licenses in many parts of the economy, and that reduced corruption in those areas. But in areas where governmental controls have not reduced, like in real estate, or mining, or government procurement, corruption is rampant.
c) Rahul must insist on reforms in police, judiciary, PDS, etc, using technology to bring in transparency. Rahul must emulate his father Rajiv Gandhi when he introduced computers and telecommunications into the country.
d) The Lokpal bill must be passed. This won’t reduce corruption by itself, but it will signal the Congress’s intentions. The law may not be the perfect one, but it can always be amended later.
e) Government salaries must be vastly increased. This is like the elephant in the room syndrome. Everyone knows that government pay scales are the worst, and government employees are almost compelled to “top it up” illegally, but no one wants to address the issue upfront. Pay scales must be indexed to market rates. This will ensure that better quality people join the government. This will also compel the government to reduce it’s size. Less people; but earning better will help curb corruption. For senior bureaucrats, the government must take away housing privileges, and give them a cash HRA instead. Likewise, free entitlements like phone calls, train and air travel and limitless domestic help must be removed totally.
f) Reduce discretion in decision making: one of the biggest playground for corruption is the tax department; tax laws are loosely defined and subject to “interpretation”. Most corporate have learnt to “handle” tax authorities, but the longer term solution is to make the laws practical, remove grey areas, and then implement rigidly
Rahul has to be progressive on social issues. Attack the khaps, because the youth don’t support them. Protect women, because the younger generation wants equality of rights. De-politicize religion, because the youth believe religion is a private affair. Improve education and bring in social reforms from there. Amend the laws and make them more progressive. There’s a lot that can be done.
On economic policy: Rahul must understand people are hungry for economic growth. They want more jobs, better salaries, better choice of goods, better and affordable housing….Rahul’s biggest competitor, Modi, is going to play the growth card. Rahul has to do the following:
a) Openly support Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram’s liberal policies. He seems to be doing this already.
b) Make laws simpler. Cut size of government. The private sector should have to deal as less as possible with the government.
c) Get out of business: Sell Air India. Privatize Indian Railways. Open up coal mining to private sector. Get out of power production and distribution….Instead, focus on governance – make regulations to protect consumers, ensure competition and fair practices, etc. (Difficulty level: Relatively easy)
d) Reduce unviable social schemes: none of the schemes – like NREGA, Food Security, Fuel subsidies, tax exemption for agricultarists, farm loan waivers etc – can be faulted individually, but collectively, they wreak havoc on the economic system. The approach should be one akin to managing a wardrobe. When you get new clothes, old ones have to be thrown out compulsorily.
e) Strongly push Direct Cash Transfer. This will cut corruption, improve coverage, bring in more efficiency, and reduce fiscal deficit….in short, it’s a technological solution that can cure a myriad problems. Likewise, use the mobile phone as a revolutionary tool – enable mobile banking, enhance communication, facilitate access to data, encourage small entrepreneurs etc. Selling spectrum cheap should be the idea.
There are many more areas that Rahul will have to focus on. The above should just be the starting point. Once he signals his intent clearly, he will have ample time to embark on the rest.
The real truth is that Rahul has it in him to revamp his party. He has the advantage of age on his side. He has to show the determination to do new things. To overturn the old order. Ideally, like I wrote in an earlier post, it would be great if he could get Chidambaram as the PM, and he himself remained the party President for one term….that way he could stay focused on revamping his party and its ideology, while someone like Chidambaram could deliver the goods….