One has to concede that Rahul Gandhi does have the capacity to steal the show. He may have made innumerable gaffes but equally he has shone several times.
What is it about Gandhi scion Rahul, which makes him a target each time he opens his mouth? Is it the BJP’s social media machinery which is hell bent on discrediting him? Or is it that he actually puts his foot in the mouth? Why is it that bad news about him grabs more eyeballs than the sensible things he says? Is he more damned than the others? Or is this the story of a Prince versus a chaiwala: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s humble beginnings pitched against the Gandhi heir who is born with the proverbial silver spoon, to put it simply.
That apart, one has to concede that Rahul Gandhi does have the capacity to steal the show. He may have made innumerable gaffes but equally he has shone several times. And how?
Rewind to his there are two Indias speech in Parliament during the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address: “The result of the flawed vision of the Centre is two Indias being created…There is now no longer one India” and so on and so forth.
Targeting Modi he said: “Now the idea of king has come back. Now there is a king, a Shahenshah, a ruler of rulers and master of masters”.
There is more: “There is the idea that India can be ruled by a stick from the Centre. Every time that has happened, that stick has been broken”, Gandhi said even as he underlined the need to unite the “two Indias”.
Gandhi’s speech made many sit up; some termed this as his “defining moment”.
The speech grabbed headlines. It made the ruling BJP so nervous that the Party had to rein in ministers to take on Gandhi.
Union Minister Kiren Rijiju spoke about Rahul Gandhi behaving like a King of India instead of a Yuvraj, whatever that may mean; criticised him for taking “frequent vacations” and leading a “colourful life”.
Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar refuted Gandhi’s claim about the ruling Party bringing Pakistan and China together, on grounds that the two had collaborated since the seventies.
That apart, how can one forget Rahul Gandhi’s Modi hug?
That one move rattled the usually over confident Prime Minister who could not handle Gandhi’s well-crafted spontaneity, to say the least.
Known the world over for his hugging diplomacy, there are images galore of Prime Minister Modi giving a bear hug to international leaders including former US Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But when Rahul Gandhi did a Modi on Modi as it were, he stumped almost everyone.
At the end of his fiery speech in Parliament, Rahul Gandhi walked right across to where the Prime Minister was sitting and gave him a tight hug. A startled Modi nearly lost his balance.
As a prelude to the hug, Gandhi told a full-House: “It means that even if someone attacks you, ridicules you, and calls you ‘Pappu’, you love them”.
For record, Rahul Gandhi is often mocked at, as Pappu with the BJP taking a swipe at him.
During an election campaign, Amit Shah, then merely Narendra Modi’s aide, had said: “The Congress thinks the Prime minister’s chair is Pappu’s birth right”.
As for the hug, confusion continues between it being spontaneous or part of a strategy.
Irrespective, that afternoon emotion scored over politics.
The BJP was clearly at a disadvantage because Rahul Gandhi made headlines. The Modi-hug pushed to the background whatever political points the Government had tried to score through the crucial debate.
That afternoon, Rahul Gandhi stepped out of his Pappu persona and donned a mantle wherein he stood tall.
But such moments in Rahul Gandhi’s political journey are few and far between.
What explanation can there be for his awkward silence over the violence-question in the event for Cambridge members in London recently.
Unable to handle it, he shifted it to the assassination of his father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and termed it as the “single biggest learning experience” of his life: “…As a son I lost my father, and that’s very painful. But then I can’t get away from the fact that the same event also made me learn things that I would never ever have learnt otherwise….”
His emotional outreach may have touched a chord with a handful, but for most present there, Rahul came across as clueless: “I think… I mean, the word that comes to mind is forgiveness. It is not precisely accurate,” Rahul Gandhi said before going silent again.
Like it was with his father Rajiv Gandhi, emotion plays out better with Rahul than hard-core politics. He scores when he speaks from his heart, quite like his dad.
If Rajiv Gandhi was a gentleman in the wrong profession, so is Rahul. Rajiv shunned politics, loved his annual vacation to exotic places with family and friends.
Ditto Rahul who takes more holidays than his father ever did. Rajiv Gandhi learnt it the hard way; his son, Rahul, too is getting there.
It is premature to politically write off Rahul Gandhi; as it is to conclude that he is the uncrowned Prince, awaiting his turn.
However, this is not to suggest that Rahul Gandhi may never be Prime Minister. Politics being a game of probabilities, nothing can ever be ruled out.
Remember P.V. Narasimha Rao who had packed his bags to go back home? Or Dr. Manmohan Singh for that matter who had not foreseen the future Mrs Sonia Gandhi had scripted for him? Fortunately for the country, both Rao and Singh were competent. Having served as Union Ministers they were also old hands at governance.
But then what about the likes of the unlettered Rabri Devi who succeeded her husband, Laloo Prasad Yadav as Chief Minister, after he was jailed?
Comparisons apart, a question that stares in the face vis a vis Gandhi is whether he has what it takes to lead the country? Can this nation be entrusted to a suave young man who knows little about India and even less about governance, its intricacies and challenges?.
Of course, the plus point of a non-BJP government will be an India free of communalism, hatred, divisiveness, bulldozer and mandir politics; it will be one where a particular community is not baying for the blood of another; where dissenters are not thrown in prison and where those who speak freely are not charged with sedition.
The flip side could be sluggish governance, pending projects and perhaps a decision paralysis.
One has to grant that the Modi led government is not only proactive but one that is easily on an overdrive.
Yet this is not a toss-up between Modi and Gandhi. As of now, Rahul Gandhi is neither the answer to the country’s problems nor is he an antidote to Modi.
In the highly unlikely scenario of the BJP being trounced, the mantle is unlikely to fall on the Gandhi scion. Since he took over the reins of the Congress, the Party is on a downslide. Therefore the popular vote is not in his favour.
That apart, there are several contenders who have actually roughed it out and braved the heat and dust. Also they inspire more confidence than Gandhi does.
Yet it would be foolhardy to write him off. He may be a political novice but he has the strength of a national Party behind him. There may be misgivings but at one call, the rank and file would pitch for him. Thanks to the Gandhi-glue as it were, they are well aware that the name spells magic and the only one in the Congress that can garner votes. Therefore they will stick together unless of course greener pastures beckon.
To be fair to Gandhi, he has sparks of brightness and whenever they show up, he steals the show. His suit boot ki sarkar or the chowkidar chor hai jibe, showed Prime Minister Modi in poor light.
But Rahul Gandhi also has himself to blame when he speaks about potatoes turning into gold or “this morning I got up at night” like he did in Madhya Pradesh and in Parliament respectively.
Therefore, like Modi’s two Indias, there are two sides to Rahul: one is Rahul the politician rubbing shoulders with the average Indian and the other is a modern young man who takes off on a holiday at the drop of a hat, dons an expensive jacket and believes in enjoying life to the full.
If the leader Rahul Gandhi has the capacity to make the House sit up and listen, then the apolitical Pappu is a laughing stock when he mixes up words like brashtachar, corruption and balatkar, rape; refers to Congress’ Indira canteens, as Amma canteens, set up by the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa; talks of “every single city” in Bengaluru; or describes poverty “just a state of mind”.
The list of bloopers is long but there are enough examples of Rahul the man who means well, intends and even tries to make a difference.
Equally, in a toss-up between Rahul and Pappu, the first has the potential to unnerve Modi but it is the caricature that provides enough ammunition to be ridiculed on a daily basis.