Rahul Gandhi, often described as India’s prime minister-in-waiting, said in a keynote address designed to raise his profile that the poor must see the benefits of economic growth.
Faced with a sharply slowing economy and swelling budget deficit, the ruling Congress party vice-president told business chiefs late on Thursday he wanted to forge a long-term partnership with them to help the poor and unleash India’s “beehive” energies.
“This country is only going to move forward if we all stand together,” Gandhi, 42, told the annual meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry in a sometimes rambling address in which he laid out his vision for the nation.
Gandhi, one of a string of big guns Congress wheeled out at the meeting to woo the important business community before next year polls, said “inclusive growth is win-win for everybody”.
“We have to carry the poor and weak with us,” he added.
In his first speech to a major corporate audience, the media-shy leader talked of the need for better education, infrastructure and political responses, but was short on policy detail and gave no hints about his own ambitions.
He said that instead of the usual references to India as a slow-moving elephant, a far more apt comparison would be to a complex beehive.
The complexity, he said, gave India the edge internationally and over its Asian rival China.
“India is complex. China is simple. And that is why India can’t give simple answers when the West and other investors demand them,” he said.
“And you, the Indian corporates, are the masters of this. You are the masters of complexities.”
Gandhi – who comes from a line of three prime ministers and is second in the party’s hierarchy after his mother, Sonia Gandhi – was non-committal about whether he would be a prime ministerial candidate next year.
“Whether I will become prime minister, this an irrelevant question – it’s all smoke,” he said, adding his goal was to “help one billion people find their voices”.
What was certain, he said, was that he was “not the guy on the horse who will charge through India and everything in India will be fixed -- I’m just one out of a billion in this country”.
Business figures said Gandhi’s sincerity had impressed them. But some highlighted how he had failed to propose solutions to India’s problems such as poor infrastructure, red tape and low business confidence.
“It’s wonderful he spoke so much from the heart, but he also needs to speak from the head and be more pragmatic,” said Amarjit Singh, a director of multinational Motherson Automotive.
Opposition BJP leader Prakash Javadekar called Gandhi a “confused leader” who had presented a “confused ideology which nobody could understand”.
India faces general elections in early next year, with the Congress party struggling with the lowest economic growth in a decade and a string of corruption scandals.