A long-time associate of the Gandhi family, Sam Pitroda, had ushered in the telecom revolution in India working closely with the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in the late 1980s. In his home State of Gujarat to help the Congress in the Assembly polls, Mr. Pitroda questions the BJP’s development model for the State. Excerpts.
So you are here to play a critical role for the Congress in Gujarat?
I don’t know about the critical role, but I am here to do what I have been asked to do and I feel it’s my duty to do what needs to be done. At this point of time, Rahul [Gandhi, Congress vice-president] felt that we need to meet various social groups, listen to their voices, their issues. So we are having multiple meetings in cities such as Vadodara, Jamnagar, Rajkot, Surat. We just finished a meeting with women and it was shocking to hear their stories. The kind of harassment they go through, financial insecurity, income disparity. It’s absolutely appalling to hear that the State does not spend money on women-centric schemes, [and] budget is cut on health and women and child development.
What are the main issues that you have heard during your interactions with people?
To be very frank, shocking stories I have heard. There is complete negligence of the informal sector; marginalised sections are hardly under focus of any scheme or initiative. If someone files [an] RTI [application] seeking some information, harassment starts immediately. We heard people complaining that lands given by the government some 30 to 40 years back are getting repossessed by the government for industrial development. These are the topics we want to incorporate in the manifesto.
So what’s your take on the Gujarat model of development that the BJP showcases across the country?
You know it’s one thing to looking at top down and talk about development from the top. What I emphasise is the bottom-up approach of development. The real difference for development is what you look from bottom up. That is the Gandhian way of development and that’s what the Congress party’s approach is and will be in Gujarat and elsewhere. This whole business of the Gujarat model of development is all bogus and does not make sense.
But then there are many economists, experts who have lauded the Gujarat model and its high growth rate, high investment rate.
High growth rate for whom? At the end of the day, there are two ways of growing. One way is you give two big industries, lot of support or five big industries, lot of support and you create five multi-billionaires and your numbers will look good. But have you really met the needs of the people? At the end of the day, GDP does not matter, people matter. Don’t be fooled by GDP, GNP and wealth creation if larger sections of society don’t benefit from it. Please explain to me what is the Gujarat model if it’s not about making a few billionaires and a few dozen millionaires? Under the Gujarat model, a few people have become very rich, ultra rich while large numbers of people have become very poor. Is that the kind of development we want? I am saying Gujarat and India are at the crossroads. The world over, just 2,000 people control a huge amount of wealth and is that the model we want and is that the idea of capitalism you want here? Capitalism means everybody benefits from it. Do you want concentrated capitalism or distributive capitalism?
I find it disgusting when someone says nothing was done in 70 years in the country.
That’s the Prime Minister who keeps saying that nothing was done in 70 years.
I don’t care who says what. For a moment, your lies may sell and thrive and people may buy your lies peddled by PR experts. But don’t insult those like us who worked for the country. Don’t insult Dr. Kurien who made the country the largest milk producer in the world, don’t insult space scientists who made satellites, don’t insult IITs who produced experts working across the world.
Those who suffer from inferiority complex will say… the country started working only after I came.
But then why could your party not counter those lies?
I don’t think we need to counter or rebut each and everything someone says. Today, the people are too hung up on PR. Did Mahatma Gandhi ever have a PR agency? Did he hire anyone to package him? You need packaging when you are not competent. The Congress party has to stand for values like truth, inclusion, trust, concern for minorities and people at the bottom of the pyramid.
But now the Congress is also in the midst of packaging and re-branding Rahul Gandhi.
That’s not true. We are not packaging or re-branding Rahul Gandhi. We are presenting the real Rahul Gandhi to the people of the country. A bunch of clowns have defined [him] as “pappu” but he is not that. He is very educated, sincere, he meditates, he thinks a lot, and sometimes I think he thinks too much. He reads a lot and he is a scholar. I will give you an example, during his recent trip in the U.S., he spent 90 minutes with a top scholar on Islam, another 90 with a top scholar on China and North Korea. He is very curious. May be I am biased because I have seen him growing up since he was a child. He is a decent human being, who will never lie or cheat but he will trust. In the U.S., whoever he met and interacted with, people liked him. He met the entire board of Washington Post, New York Times and Reuters and they had long conversations and interactions with him on a variety of issues.