A man who listens is a rarity. By that indicator alone, Rahul Gandhi’s stock should rise.
After all, it is not everyday that we see a political leader asking people what they want — certainly not of tribal women.
However, on January 7 morning at Ranchi’s Hotel Ashok, Rahul listened. He asked party general secretary B K Hariprasad not to interrupt when he tried to make a woman cut her speech short. He listened through complaints, he chuckled at anecdotes.
However, in what may be seen as a repeat of his now much ridiculed TV interview, Rahul gave the answers he wanted to. There was talk of empowerment, on a loop, and often his answers were twice removed from the questions.
The audience stood up to ask micro problems. There were several questions about anganwadi sevikas, parateachers, tribal women’s inheritance rights under tenancy laws, human trafficking, branding of women as witches: all Jharkhand-specific issues that Rahul minders should have known would be asked.
Yet, the Congress vice-president threw back stock replies at them — veering around also to the MNREGA and Right to Food — missing a chance to make it clear that he understood the problems of tribals with some nuance and to offer solutions.
Probably the only direct promise he made to the 800-odd women present at the one-hour interactive session was that he would pressure the state government, of which the Congress is a coalition partner, to give more power to panchayats.
But that is not new, even for Rahul. On day one of his two-day visit to Jharkhand in September 2012, Rahul had met panchayat representatives, who had raised the demand of devolution of power. At that point, the BJP and JMM were leading the government. Since then, the Congress has come to share power, and a party minister handles the panchayati raj portfolio, but little has been done for the panchayats.
Maybe the Congress vice-president has taken on empowerment of women as his new project, an indicator being the absence of a meeting exclusively with youngsters during his Jharkhand visit.
He is already miles ahead of his counterparts when he shows a willingness to listen and talk to the most deprived of this country. It’s time he showed evidence that he can also walk the talk.
Deepu is a senior correspondent based in Ranchi