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Rahul Gandhi: Reluctant Politician Turns Combative

Updated: May 9, 2015 6:07 pm

From being a reluctant politician, who was not very media-savvy, made few interventions in Parliament despite being its member for about a decade and avoided direct confrontation with Narendra Modi even during the height of electioneering for the Lok Sabha, a rejuvenated Rahul Gandhi has suddenly transformed into a “fast and furious leader” after his unexplained sabbatical

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s new aggressive avatar after his 56-day sojourn has not only taken aback the ruling BJP, but even his own party leaders are pleasantly surprised while people at large are wondering what caused this drastic shift in the approach of the scion of Gandhi-Nehru family.

From being a reluctant politician, who was not very media-savvy, made few interventions in Parliament despite being its member for about a decade and avoided direct confrontation with Narendra Modi even during the height of electioneering for the Lok Sabha, a rejuvenated Rahul Gandhi has suddenly transformed into a “fast and furious leader” after his unexplained sabbatical. He has repeatedly challenged the Modi government during the past few days taking up issues like agrarian crisis leading to farmers’ suicides and supporting net neutrality thereby projecting himself the leader of poor farmers and youth.

Rahul addressed an impressive rally in the national capital last fortnight assuring farmers that he and his party are there to support them against the “pro-corporate” Modi government, which, he charged, is ready to sacrifice their interest by bringing the land acquisition ordinance. But aggression of the Congress vice-president could be partly attributed to the fact that unlike his earlier support to farmers agitating against land acquisition in Bhatta Parsaul, this time he was not dealing with internal contradiction of agitating when his own party’s government was in power at the centre.

However, the new-found political combativeness was evident from the fact that Rahul continued the pressure by raking up the farmers’ issue in the Lok Sabha on the first day. Charging the government with being anti-farmer, he took a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for leading a “suit boot ki sarkar” thereby reminding him of the criticism he faced for wearing rupees ten-lakh suit during US President Barack Obama’s visit. This was followed by Rahul taking up the issue of net neutrality to woo the younger generation who have come out in a big way to support it. Rahul charged the government with carving out internet and trying to sell it out to corporates. He demanded that the consultations with TRAI be stopped and a law be brought to ensure net neutrality.

Already struggling with a united opposition on the land ordinance issue, the BJP went into overdrive to neutralise Rahul’s attack. Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu rebutted Rahul’s charges even though ministers are not supposed to respond to issues raised during Zero Hour. Prasad assured that the government will take a decision on net neutrality issue by keeping the interests of people in mind and made a counter offensive by reminding that twitter handle of many people was blocked by the previous UPA II government.

However, change in Rahul’s body language and his posturing as more aggressive, spontaneous and decisive leader has made the task difficult for BJP, which was earlier used to be dismissive of the Congress vice-president. Rahul’s transformation was evident while appreciating the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister to be praised by US President Barack Obama, who wrote an article on Modi in Time magazine, he took a jibe on him by reminding that in the past US President had praised former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev whom they perceived to be working to support American interest that ultimately led to disintegration of the USSR.

This dig is hard hitting Modi, who repeatedly uses his numerous foreign visits as image building exercise and showcase strength of his government while criticising the previous UPA regime for being responsible for ‘’scam India’’. Moreover, Rahul’s new-found spontaneity was also evident when he visited hospital following the suicide of farmer Gajendra Singh at an AAP rally in the national capital, which was sharply in contrast from his being complete absent from the scene during massive protest of people following Nirbhaya gang rape incident.

The Congress, which in the past faced repeated electoral setbacks under Rahul’s leadership depleting its strength in the Lok Sabha and losing power in most states thereby demoralising the party cadres, is happy with the change in heir-apparent. The party, which lost even the leader of opposition status in the Lok Sabha after not getting even 10 per cent of the total seats, is happy that now Rahul is leading from the front. However, many in the party wonder whether this aggressive posturing would remain for long or he would revert to his past record of being absent from the field at crucial junctures.

“Rahul Gandhi being in the combative mood is good for the party. People are expecting more from him,” Congress general secretary B K Hariprasad said. Avoiding to comment on the reason for change in Rahul demeanour, he said that the failure of Modi government has been reason for Congress vice-president attacking him.

Admitting that Rahul appears more confident and open now, another Congress general secretary Shakeel Ahmad said, “It is a fact that his confidence level now is really high. He is more open and other things (aggressive and political savvy). Most of these things that are visible now were already in him in the past also but were not noticed by people because he kept away from media. The issues like farmers’ crisis and net neutrality that he has taken up were always close to his heart. Before going for vacation Rahul had informed senior leaders that he was going for introspection. All these issues must have come for deeper analysis and he must have realised what he wants to do, when and how to achieve them.

And now we see that he is trying to achieve all this.”

Regarding Rahul’s anointment as the Congress president, Ahmad said, “It has been an open issue. Sonia Gandhi is our biggest leader and even Rahul has said so. There is no doubt or question on the leadership issue in the mind of Congressmen.”

Dismissing reports in some section of media that there has been rift between Sonia and Rahul over his aggressive posturing, Ahmad reminded, “Even recently when Sonia was asked about Rahul’s elevation she said that it depends on him. So it is evident that decision will be taken with the mutual consent of mother and son.”

At the same time, the old guards in the Congress are wary over the generational change, which is expected soon. Deriving their power from proximity with Sonia, some senior leaders apprehend that they would be marginalised in Rahul’s regime. According to sources, much of the heart burn was due to the fact that earlier a message had gone that the people over 55 years of age would have no place in the new young and tech-savvy team of Rahul.

Former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amrendra Singh, former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and her son and former MP Sandeep Dikshit making statements supporting Sonia continuing as the Congress President at this crucial juncture could pose a challenge for a combative Rahul. However, statements of these leaders are also seen as an expression of their agitation against their competitors Pratap Singh Bajwa and Ajay Maken respectively being given more importance in the party by Rahul. But team Rahul is already active to neutralise any resistance to his supremacy with many Congress secretaries reportedly demanding that disciplinary action be taken against Sandeep.

Political analysts familiar with Congress culture feel that apart from some small hiccups the generational change will be smooth. But at the same time, they have a word of caution for Rahul, who after facing repeated electoral debacle must realise that he would have to take senior leaders along to regain the lost ground and continue this new combative avatar to counter NDA government effectively.

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