Rahul Gandhi 2.0: Is the Congress marching to a new tune?

The new, improved Rahul Gandhi seems to have taken the beleaguered party by storm; the Maharashtra Congress is even more buoyed because Gandhi has visited the state three times between April 30 and May 15

The Indian National Congress, which the voters of this country had put on ventilator support last year, has started drawing in some oxygen, thanks to its vice-president and would-be chief Rahul Gandhi’s dramatic comeback to the national political scene.

Commentators feel that Rahul Gandhi’s long march in Vidarbha’s scorching heat and his sincere interaction with farmers has given the Congress a big boost. File pics
Commentators feel that Rahul Gandhi’s long march in Vidarbha’s scorching heat and his sincere interaction with farmers has given the Congress a big boost. File pics

The Gandhi scion, who will be 45 next month, was written off when the Congress lost power at the Centre and in many states. Even the disenchanted Congress workers had lost hopes of the party’s revival, but now they too feel that the party could again be a force to reckon with, provided that Gandhi does not vanish into oblivion again, just like he went into hibernation recently. They think Rahul is the Congress’ trump card.

Rahul Gandhi visited Amravati and spent time at a farmer’s residence
Rahul Gandhi visited Amravati and spent time at a farmer’s residence

People connect
As the Narendra Modi government is under scrutiny for undelivered promises and the land acquisition law, Gandhi seems to be in the right mode that is required for connecting with the people. The speeches he made in Parliament and the noise he has been making on the streets and villages he has been touring, may be the beginning of the Congress’ revival.

The Maharashtra Congress is even more buoyed because Gandhi has visited the state three times between April 30 and May 15. A senior Congress leader said that Gandhi’s recent efforts have been fairly successful in addressing the concerns that were expressed by party workers in the past. “We said he is not active. Now he’s active.

We said he does not speak in Parliament. He is doing it now, more frequently and effectively. They said he is averse to social media. He’s now connecting with people through every possible medium, including Twitter,” said the leader. “We see a sea change in Rahul’s overall approach to politics and people in general,” the leader said, requesting anonymity.

Walk with people
Political commentator Shrikant Barhate, who has been tracking developments in the Congress for many years now, said that Gandhi might have taken a leaf out of his grandmother Indira’s politics as far as his efforts at reaching out to the masses are concerned. “I remember Acharya Vinoba Bhave advising Indira Gandhi to go to the people when she was out of power (post-Emergency).

Acharya told her if she walked with people, the people would walk with her. This is what is happening with Rahul now,” said Barhate, a former World Bank consultant. Barhate, who witnessed Gandhi’s 15-km padyatra in Vidarbha’s farmer suicide-affected Amravati district late last month, said that the Congress vice-president was able to tap a sense in the people, particularly farmers, that the current government has abandoned them.

He said that Gandhi’s long march in Vidarbha’s scorching heat and his sincere interaction with the farmers stole the show for the Congress. “Thousands of distressed farmers walked with him, hailed him for sharing their pain,” he said, adding that this was the same region where ex-PM Manmohan Singh had announced a special package for suicide-affected farmers, some nine years ago.

Gandhi has been taunted and hit below the belt by his adversaries in the past for his acts which do not befit conventional politics. “Our leader is still unpredictable and hence we expect him to not do part-time politics. He should now understand that the party needs him badly,” said another senior Congress leader, requesting anonymity.

The leader said that the BJP leaders too had followed Gandhi’s way of connecting with people. “Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis spent a night at a farmer’s home a couple of months ago. But when Gandhi did the same thing, he was ripped apart by the opposition. They called it tourism. We expect the situation to change because the new age politicians have their own ideas of understanding the people,” said the Congressman.

Some Congress leaders recalled how Gandhi surprised them by attending court proceedings in Bhiwandi early this month. “Only a select few knew about the visit. We wondered why he needed to do it when the Supreme Court had granted him permission to skip (the hearing). But he told us that he wanted to honour his commitment to the court that he would attend the hearing. Such things baffle the people, and the opposition derives political mileage out of it,” he said.

Gandhi visited Maharashtra for a third time in a span of 15 days when he drove from Nanded to the drought-affected region of neighbouring Telangana. Sources in the Congress said that the Nanded visit was to boost the morale of State Congress president Ashok Chavan, who hails from Nanded, one of the two Lok Sabha seats that the Congress managed to win.

Catalyst for change?
Mumbai Region Congress Committee president Sanjay Nirupam told mid-day that the entire Congress was behind Rahul Gandhi and there was no denying that he would make the next PM. “Rahulji has hit the Modi government where it hurts most. Our leader is the BJP and Modi’s nemesis. He’s proved his originality through his speeches and acts,” said Nirupam.

State Congress general secretary Sanjay Dutt said that Gandhi was fighting for poor and distressed farmers whereas Modi was working for a handful of his corporate friends. “What’s wrong when Rahulji says the PM does not have time to visit the poor and farmers?” The Maharashtra Congress more to cheer about because of Gandhi’s pinpointed focus on the state.

Once a Congress citadel, the party has lost the state miserably to the BJP and Shiv Sena. In the Lok Sabha elections, the party won only two seats out of 48. In the Assembly polls, it failed in reaching the 45-mark in a 288-member house.

Despite defeats, the Congress has not depleted its vote base as much, and this is where the party has concentrated its energies. Gandhi has played a deciding role in giving the state unit’s command to Ashok Chavan, who was sidelined in view of his alleged involvement in the Adarsh housing scam.

What other parties think

Madhav Bhandari, BJP’s chief spokesperson
This isn’t a new avatar. It’s an awakened avatar. Whatever he (Rahul) is doing now is similar to what he had been doing when the Congress was in power. There is no change in his style and substance, and his understanding (of the issues) remains unchanged.

Anil Parab, Shiv Sena leader and legislator
It looks like Rahul Gandhi is back from doing some 50-day course. We didn’t know where he was and what he was doing. No doubt, he’s changed. But we don’t know how far he’s going to retain his new avatar.

Atul Londhe, NCP spokesperson
We are not much surprised. Rahulji made a dead Parliament alive. It seems (his) 44 (MPs) are working like 440.

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