Indian National Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi addresses the special plenary session of Confederation of Indian Industr in New Delhi on April 4, 2013. (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent of India’s ruling Congress party, has warned Indians against yearning for a single strongman to solve the country’s problems, saying the “clogged” political system should be more inclusive.

In a sprawling, idealistic address to Indian industrialists, Gandhi, the recently anointed vice president of the Congress party, again dismissed speculation over whether he would seek to serve as prime minister in a future Congress government as “an irrelevant question.”

“Give me all the power you want — give one individual all the power you want, give him everything, he cannot solve the problems of a billion people,” the 43-year-old scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty told the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) on Thursday. “Give a billion people the power to solve the problems, it will be done immediately.”

Gandhi’s move to woo Indian industrialists had been keenly anticipated by those seeking clues to his ideas on the economy and the future of the Congress, now led by his publicity-shy mother, Sonia, who has been criticized for her opacity during the nine years of Congress rule.

Until now, Gandhi has also shied away from elite forums in India’s cities, preferring instead to travel to remote districts to meet the poor and address mass rallies. With parliamentary elections a year away, Gandhi’s CII appearance was an effort to appeal to educated urban voters, who see him as a reluctant politician with unclear priorities.

Yet his 75-minute speech, including his response to questions, failed to offer concrete steps to tackle what he admitted were India’s “complex” problems. Gandhi did not directly mention India’s dramatic economic slowdown or offer any specific ideas for the challenges it faces.

Instead, he obliquely attacked business leaders’ enthusiasm for Narendra Modi, the controversial chief minister of Gujarat state, widely expected to be the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party’s prime ministerial candidate.

Gandhi, a nervous public speaker who at times fumbled with his notes, said Indians must abandon their dream of a white knight who will “come on a horse, with the sun in the background, a billion people will be waiting, and everything will be nice. It’s not going to happen.”

Instead, he said, businesses should work with the Congress party government to help create the basic physical and education infrastructure to help India’s youthful population realize their aspirations and to prevent social disorder.

“We are sitting on an unstoppable tide of human aspirations — a tide so great it is going to move forward no matter what we do,” he said. “We need to nurture it. We need to make it harmonious. We need to make it happen smoothly.”

He warned of the “danger” of excluding marginalized groups, including India’s Muslim minority, women and members of the lower castes, which he said could eventually lead to disruptions that would undermine India’s growth.

“A rising tide doesn’t raise people who don’t have a boat,” he said in his prepared speech. “We have to build the boat for them. We have to give them the basic infrastructure to rise with the tide.”

He said the Congress party had created an environment of tolerance and harmony that had lowered communal tensions, and he warned of the high cost of “the politics of hostility.”

However, a Bharatiya Janata party spokesman dismissed the speech as reflecting Gandhi’s “paranoia” about Modi.

“A confused youth leader presented his confused ideology, which nobody could understand,” Prakash Javadekar, the spokesman, said. “He was raising only questions that common people are asking. It was a tacit admission that no major progress has taken place over the last nine years.”

— Financial Times