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Does Rahul seem more like a substantial opposition leader than before?

Anyone who saw or heard Rahul Gandhi’s speech in parliament on Wednesday must be asking the same questions: Is this the man the BJP used to dismiss as a joker?

The man who it said would never amount to anything? The guy who it hoped would always lead the Congress because, under him, it never had any hope of revival?


It is nobody’s case that Rahul is now a great orator. Or a master politician for that matter. But it is hard to dispute that he made an extremely effective intervention, tearing into the government with intelligence and vigour. What’s more, even the rest of the opposition, which had once privately joined the BJP in sneering at him, seemed thrilled and enthused by his frontal attack on the government.


  Joker? Buffoon? Pappu?


   Hardly. The BJP will have to think of new insults.


   So what has changed? Why did Rahul seem more effective in parliament on Wednesday? Why does he seem much more like a substantial opposition leader than he has ever before?


   I reckon that Rahul has turned his image around and grown in genuine confidence (not the stubborn bravado that marked his early years in Opposition) because of a variety of factors. Here, in no particular order, are some of them.


   As we all know, Rahul resigned as Congress President several years ago. But then, instead of letting somebody else take over, he hung around as an extra-constitutional authority. Further, his sister also joined him as co-boss. All that this did was to lend substance to the BJP’s claim that this generation of Gandhis had turned the Congress into a family party, one that was no different from say, the Shiv Sena or the Akali Dal. (Both these parties, ironically enough, were among the BJP’s earliest allies.)


   You could argue, in the Congress’s defence, that Covid made it difficult to hold its organisational elections sooner. But now that these elections have finally been held and Mallikarjun Kharge elected as Rahul’s successor, the family-party charge has been much weakened.


   Moreover, it is also now clear that Kharge is actually better at running the organisation than Rahul ever was. There is much less simmering dissent and the charge frequently levelled against Rahul by Congressmen — that he was inaccessible — now matters much less. Kharge meets everyone and takes decisions. The days of waiting months for an appointment with Rahul and then hanging around at Tughlaq Lane for hours on end because Rahul’s on-time performance has always been terrible are now long past.


   Most important: Rahul himself seems freer and much more his own man now that he has been rid of the organisational responsibilities that he was never very good at.


   This was the turning point. One of Rahul’s problems was that he had lost control of his own image. How he was perceived was largely a function of how biased news channels portrayed him and how the BJP’s social media glove puppets and two rupee-wallahs made fun of him.


  "Rahul’s message that India needs more love and harmony and less hatred has a certain resonance."

   The Bharat Jodo Yatra gave people a chance to see Rahul as he really was. No matter what government-approved scripts the anchors in the NOIDA studios were made to read from, the reporters on the ground were all uniformly impressed by Rahul’s dedication and faithfully reported the good response the Yatra was getting.


   The sight of Rahul walking for miles also killed off the BJP-created caricature of him as a spoilt brat who made guest appearances in India before taking a private plane to his next foreign holiday.


   Until the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul had not really found an issue to make his own. He lost the last General Election by trying unsuccessfully to prove that the Prime Minister was a crook while Narendra Modi shrewdly focussed on the threat to India from its enemies both internal and external and how he alone had the ability to protect the country. (The Pulwama-Balakot combination.)


   In the first years of the BJP’s second term, Rahul floundered. But in the run-up to the Yatra, he finally found an issue that resonated with people: India is being divided by hate; let love be the answer.


   That’s what the Yatra was about and Rahul has stuck to that message, hammering away at it again and again, most recently on Wednesday when he spoke about the government’s attempts to create two Manipurs and the Prime Minister’s unwillingness to even visit the state and offer succour to those who so desperately needed it.


   As communal tensions rise, there will be more violent incidents that no Central government can control. The Gurgaon riots showed us how the BJP’s associate organisations can cause havoc without any permission from the Centre. The railway constable who went looking for Muslims to kill in what, even the government now accepts, was clearly a hate crime, did not act on any central directive.


   As hate spreads, its manifestations and consequences become harder and harder to control. And even those Hindus who don’t particularly like Muslims become perturbed by the violence, the tension and the atmosphere of instability and uncertainty.


   So Rahul’s message that India needs more love and harmony and less hatred has a certain resonance.


   It’s not easy to make people feel sorry for Rahul Gandhi, with all of his advantages of birth. But the BJP has managed it, nevertheless.


   The defamation case filed against him by a BJP supporter in the party’s stronghold of Gujarat over remarks that were made thousands of miles away from Gujarat was crucial in evoking sympathy for Rahul. So was the jail sentence:  the maximum possible in a case of criminal defamation. As the Supreme Court has pointed out, if the jail term had been for even a day less, Rahul could have kept his Lok Sabha membership.


   I would never dream of questioning the wisdom and judgment of the Gujarat courts but we now have the Supreme Court’s view that the sentence was much too harsh. Which is why it has been stayed.


   When Congressmen say that the whole idea was just to disqualify Rahul from parliament, people ask: why do they need to do that? If he is as much of a buffoon as the BJP claims he is, why go to such lengths?


   Judging by the speed with which the Speaker’s office has restored Rahul’s membership of the Lok Sabha along with such perks as his official residence, perhaps there is a recognition that a tactical mistake was made in filing the case.


   For whatever reason, the case and the unprecedentedly harsh prison sentence have made Rahul seem like a man who was victimised.


   Now begins this hard part. Most people believe that the BJP has the next election sewn up so the most Rahul can hope for is to reduce the BJP’s majority and to emerge as the moral and political centre of the Opposition.


   Even that won’t be easy. Over the next few months, we shall see if he can manage to turn the conventional wisdom around and restore the Congress to its historical primacy in Indian politics.




  • Shahzaad 20 Aug 2023

    Yawn... not again and not you too plz
    as much as I detest the personal attacks on him by media and politicians, I really think he should go out of politics and enjoy his personal life
    In fact you had done a scathing piece about him when his party lost some of their best leaders and spokespersons and Rahul really didnt care
    sadly even Priyanka is equally clueless on politics
    doesnt run in the family

  • Desi Somewhere 16 Aug 2023

    “Judging by the speed with which the Speaker’s office has restored Rahul’s membership of the Lok Sabha along with such perks as his official residence, perhaps there is a recognition that a tactical mistake was made in filing the case” - it is exactly the same speed. Fact : His membership was revoked quickly and restored quickly. Your perception: when it was revoked was, Govt is guilty of gross injustice and when it was reinstated fast, Govt is guilty and hence trying to cut its losses. Ha ha ha

  • Venugopalan 10 Aug 2023

    He should maintain this spirit throughout and should not vanish suddenly as he used to do.

Posted On: 10 Aug 2023 10:58 AM
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