Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi stepped out of the shadows briefly on Saturday to hard sell India and the UPA government to a group of management students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Gandhi scion, who has maintained a low profile despite his formal anointment as deputy to his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi in January, took time out to meet the 42 students from 17 countries at her residence, 10 Janpath. Sonia was not present.
Rahul said that the UPA government was trying to unlock social mobility and inclusive growth could uplift the poor. “India will become a more attractive market,” he told the students from MIT’s Sloan management school.
Batting strongly in favour of reforms, Rahul said that if "something has to happen and its time has come, no force on earth can stop it from happening", and added that the government's aim is to "make easy policies for easier investments in India".
He also recalled how, many years ago, his father had asked US business magnate Jack Welch to invest in Bangalore but he didn't seem interested. "Look at Bangalore. How many top global companies have set up their centres there," he said. Welch's company, General Electric, is now a sizeable investor in India.
The 42-year-old Rahul, who represents the fifth generation of Nehru-Gandhis in politics but is seen by many as a reluctant politician, also spoke on the need for his peers to be more responsive.
"Politicians should be more accountable and always feel uncomfortable. There is no scope of complacency as people have the right to protest," he said.
Rahul answered all the questions and changed the seating arrangement to place himself in the middle of the hall so that the session was more informal and friendly.
Three students-- Vishal Chaturvedi, Tushar Kumar and Akhil Garg - along with MIT alumnus Mohan Kumaramangalam-had arranged the session under MIT's India Track initiative.
"We wanted to interact with him as he is seen as a youth icon. We are in India on a nine-day tour and we will also meet top industrialists and some Bollywood stars. Our aim is to have an overall idea of India's business, politics and culture," Chaturvedi told HT.
A Mexican student wanted to know why Indians studying abroad don't want to return. Rahul argued that those are things of the past: "Today's India is very different from the India of the 1980s and '90s. Everyone wants to come here."
Sources said that when a Venezuelan student pointed out the issue of atrocities on Indian women, Gandhi listed out the UPA government's legislation to give women more power and rights. "We are empowering women to break the glass ceiling. In the northeastern states and Kerala, women enjoy more power and rights," he said.
When a French student asked about dynastic politics in India, Rahul said he had started internal elections to promote intra-party democracy "to stop a handful of people deciding the fate of the party and government".