A false conflict
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Rahul Gandhi returns to the story of two Indias. He could find again that it doesn't resonate.
Dream bigger dreams, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi exhorted a gathering in Rajasthan on Tuesday. The poorest must not remain inhibited into keeping themselves on the margins of aspirations, he told the meeting in Baran, 250 kilometres from Jaipur. Rajasthan is headed for assembly elections in less than two months, and Gandhi has been addressing meetings in the state. He has sought to invoke the record of the incumbent Congress government to win confidence for a positive vote, but he is also clearly addressing his message to an audience beyond Rajasthan's boundaries. He has counted up the Congress's entitlement schemes, and at Baran, promised to take Rajasthan's free healthcare plan to the rest of the country. Par for the course, it could be said. General elections are more than six months away, and with a hyperactive Narendra Modi trying to charge up his base, the campaign has effectively already begun.
In articulating his competing vision, however, is Gandhi falling back into an old — and electorally repudiated — comfort zone? Is he going to the people again with the notion of two Indias? That is, in the endeavour to assert ownership over entitlement plans with parliamentary sanction, is he presenting a false choice by splicing and dicing the electorate into watertight units? The reference to Niyamgiri, for instance, in his address in Udaipur certainly suggests so. "The opposition believes that building infrastructure, roads, bridges and airports are the only markers of progress," he told the gathering in Rajasthan's tribal belt. "We believe that of course these things are important but along with this we must help the poor, Adivasis, the common people, the hungry and the destitute as well, help should reach out to the last man." But he chose to give an example that showed the two beliefs to be in conflict: promising primacy to the interests of the poor, Dalits and Adivasis, he referred them to the Orissa episode and the Congress's intervention to stop bauxite mining in the area. This is an evasive narrative. It is not just that it is arguable how resonant the Niyamgiri experience could be for Rajasthan's Adivasis. It, unfortunately, also gives an impression of development being in conflict with local aspirations.