Yesterday’s press conference by Rahul Gandhi was a strong message to the cynics who thought that he is not up to the mark as an alternative to the current incumbent Narendra Modi. Here is a man who is quite confident, articulate and has all the answers to the probing queries of a journo. It was such a welcome change, especially after the Prime Minister Modi’s interview a day earlier. Mr Modi’s interview by a pliant journalist at best looked staged and clichéd. The Prime Minister looked pedestrian and almost predictable and repeated what he has been saying since last almost five years.
The body language of Gandhi scion was unmistakable. He seemed to be the man in control and gave an air of certitude and also showed flashes of his humorous side. He was smiling and talking to newsmen from print and electronic media with nonchalance. The press just adored him. They got what they asked for. The Indian press was missing this congenial atmosphere since the days of UPA II when a press conference from Prime Minister was a routine thing.
After watching the press conference of Rahul, it was obvious that he is now cruising in his journey to the august office of the Prime Minister of India. With his recent victories in three of the five states where election took place, the momentum seems to have shifted towards the Congress, the grand old party of India. BJP sympathizers may have written off the 48 year old President of the Congress Party but the developments in last one year together with the waning popularity of his adversary Narendra has put India’s first family back in the political spotlight. The wins by Rahul Gandhi’s Congress Party in state elections were not unexpected. After 5 years of Modi Govt at the centre and states, the voters have become disillusioned with the policy of hate and divide. The economy appears to be in the intensive care unit, jobs have vanished after demonetisation, farmers are forced to dump their products on the street and the law and order seems to have been battered with upright police officers being brutally killed in broad daylight. All this added to the frustration of common man who felt cheated by Modiji’s promises of development and proverbial ‘achhe din’.
Rahul, who was long portrayed as an ineffectual leader and, by some, as a hopeless cause for the centre-Left’s return to power, has suddenly become a palpable threat to Mr Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in the next year’s General elections. It won’t be too much to say that Mr Gandhi has surprised his critics with a shock turn-around.
After the recent victory in the state elections Gandhi tweeted from his official twitter handle “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time,” attributing the quote to Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. Rahul exhibited an exemplary patience for last 5 years as an opposition leader and his time to move in the top league has arrived.
The Gandhi family has given three prime ministers to this country and two of them, Mrs Indira Gandhi and his son Rajiv also became martyrs while doing their jobs. However, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s great-grandson Rahul has often been called out for lacking the gravitas, charisma or brinkmanship of his ancestors all but ruling him out from governing the world’s second most populous country. Now such an impression about Rahul seems to be a thing of past. He really seems to have come of age and currently looks the most eligible candidate to be India’s next Prime Minister.
After years of being seen as a reluctant, lightweight spouting immature and petulant jibes at his rivals, he has forged a unique talent for riling his opponents, especially Mr Modi. Who can forget his embrace to the Prime Minister Modi in the Parliament last year on July 20? Before a stunned House, Rahul Gandhi left the Opposition benches, strode past the Lok Sabha Speaker’s chair and over to Prime Minister Modi’s seat, and gave the BJP leader a big bear hug.
Modi, who initially looked surprised, eventually obliged but Rahul has already scored a psychological point over the Prime minister. Just before he hugged the Prime Minister, Rahul said he had no hatred for the BJP, despite being on the receiving end of their smear campaign and their abuse, and being called “Pappu” and “Yuvraj”.
For past few years Rahul Gandhi seems to be on a mission and has gone on the offensive, making trips to several provinces to woo the vote from wide strata of Indian society; from students, house wives, farmers and village chiefs, to CEOs and foreign policy think tanks.
Last month’s unexpected victories, albeit close ones, in the state assembly polls of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were won in the religious, linguistic and demographic strongholds of the BJP. It was a huge setback for the ruling BJP which hasn’t recovered from this unexpected defeat. Mr Gandhi was quick to attribute his party’s victories to “farmers, party workers, shopkeepers and small businessmen” – the so called BJP’s bread-and-butter vote.
The General elections this year will decide the candidate for India’s top job and 133 crore people of India are all set to witness a gladiatorial contest between PM Modi and Rahul Gandhi. The Congress party will now be re-energised in attempts to form an alliance with various like-minded parties, who could hold the key to unseating Mr Modi in the General election, which must be held before May 2019.
Rahul further got a boost to his image when all the three elected Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh promptly announced the loan waiver of farmers which it had promised during campaign. This seemed to be a master stroke of Congress as it completely took the ruling BJP for a surprise.
Mr Modi’s panic is perceptible over his rising rival and is currently busy working on sweeteners to buy off voters. After conceding that he would “respect the mandate of the people” he is now working on means to waive big loans taken by farmers and possible minimum selling prices for crops to appease the rural voters.
Mr Modi rode to power in 2014 by offering a cocktail of his blend of Hindu nationalism, technological focus, diplomatic dealings, and a strong – if slightly dubious – back-story of rising from the ranks of lowly tea seller to the land’s highest position.
After 5 years of seeing Mr Modi as a Prime minister, it seems most of the 900 million-strong electorate may be focused on matters other than temples and cows such as the lack of jobs, plunging rupee, agricultural loans and education.
It is ironic that PM Modi was handed a huge opportunity in 2014 when his party received a clear mandate on its own. It is a sad thing that he refused to listen to the heartbeat of the country and arrogance took him away from the masses. In a way, Narendra Modi has offered the post of Prime minister to the Congress President by his own doings and Rahul has willingly accepted the offer becoming the Prime minister in waiting.
(DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.)