People love to hate Rahul Gandhi. When he is doing politics in India, he is ignored. When he leaves the country for a retreat or holiday, the media resurrects him and lampoons him. The BJP and the media can’t make up their minds about Rahul Gandhi. Do they miss him or not?
The extreme range of feelings this single Congress politician elicits from Indians polarises the entire nation. Either he’s too kind for his own good or he’s too entitled and arrogant. Either he’s too weak and someone who can’t inspire his 134-year-old party or he’s the scion of a fiefdom who bosses his party’s veteran leaders around.
Rahul Gandhi, somehow, can never get anything right. They say he’s not even an option to counter PM Narendra Modi, yet he’s constantly hounded by the BJP for any slip-up.
The curious case of Rahul Gandhi
The curious case of Rahul Gandhi gets curiouser and curiouser, and it makes one think, is India missing Rahul Gandhi?
Rahul Gandhi went to Cambodia via Bangkok and all hell broke loose last week. Again. This hue and cry would’ve made sense had Gandhi still held the position that he did in the party during and before the 2019 Lok Sabha election. But Rahul officially resigned as the Congress party president months back in July. Yet, the BJP did not waste a second to attack him for leaving the country, barely two weeks before Haryana and Maharashtra go to the polls on 21 October.
The continuing obsession of the BJP with Rahul Gandhi, in spite of the Modi-Amit Shah duo rubbing his nose in the dust this Lok Sabha election, only goes to show that Rahul Gandhi still remains relevant in the country. The deep desire to constantly put Rahul in his place with the laser focus on him by the BJP and the media shows that they still consider him a “factor” in changing things around in some way or the other in India’s politics. And there is good reason for it.
Rahul’s love in response to hate
Rahul Gandhi’s election rallies are for all to see. Just because the media didn’t cover them extensively or there was no NamoTV equivalent to constantly publicise his rallies, does not mean that the rallies were not a success.
People came to see him in droves. The fascination with a nearly 50-year-old European-looking man who is still called a “youth leader”, who spoke fluently in Hindi and shouted ‘Chowkidar’ at every crowd he addressed with a thundering ‘Chor Hai’ response, was real. The crowds responded to him. Everyone wanted to touch him, hug him and sometimes even kiss him. He didn’t remind anyone of Indira or Rajiv Gandhi, but people knew all too well that he was just 14 when he lost his grandmother to a tragic assassination and that life jolted him once more when he lost his father to another assassination at 21. He was the man who smiled in spite of it.
He was also the man who spoke more Gandhian than Nehruvian in 2019, although the latter could’ve helped him more. The Mahatma concept of offering the second cheek for a slap was followed by Rahul Gandhi to a tee. Despite Narendra Modi’s savage barbs and insults at Rahul and his family, including his dead father, and great grandfather along with his sister, brother-in-law and mother, Rahul stuck to a “love and a huge hug” for “Modi ji”.
And those who love Rahul swear by this attitude of his. According to his supporters, he’s too good a guy to be in politics. He’s the reason the Congress party has not lost its way, in spite of the party seeing an imminent slow death.
The Congress party’s stand against the Article 370 move in Kashmir was considered by most as a suicidal decision. Everyone knew Congress would be branded as the party that took “Pakistan’s stand” when it comes to the Kashmir issue. But the Gandhis, especially Rahul, stuck to calling out the BJP’s move as unconstitutional.
Many leaders in the party like Jyotiraditya Scindia clearly showed their displeasure and spoke in favour of the BJP’s decision since that seemed more nationalistic. But Rahul insisted on doing the right thing instead of doing the right-thing-for-the-party.
Congress’s deafening silence
Rahul Gandhi’s critics say the Congress would not have fared as badly as it did in the 2019 Lok Sabha election if not for him. Rahul is called an “entitled brat” who expected India to be served on a platter to him. Even the Gandhi-stronghold Amethi showed how unconvinced they felt about him by giving BJP leader Smriti Irani a big symbolic win in the election. His main man in Amethi, Sanjay Sinh left the party soon after.
Rahul’s critics are of the firm opinion that he has led the party to its lowest possible position, and that he’s unfit for politics. His office is considered high-handed wherein those who seek a rendezvous with Rahul are asked to email notes on the agenda they want to speak on. And that’s not how Indian politics works. It isn’t a corporation. Indian politics is earthy, rooted and based on personal equations, which Rahul and his office refuse to understand.
Rahul’s clique of pals is another reason why people think he isn’t serious about carving out a place for himself in India’s political landscape. Plum posts constantly going to the Scindias, the Pilots and the Deoras have alienated the younger karyakartas as not belonging to the political dynasty. In fact, the old guard also feels stabbed in the back for sticking out for so long only to be sidelined by young men who think they know it all. Sanjay Nirupam is one such relevant Maharashtra leader who is currently threatening to leave the party for being sidelined by Milind Deora who he has called a ‘nikamma’ (useless).
Rahul Gandhi’s silence during opportune moments is also considered a big failure. While many expected Rahul to take to the streets as a karyakarta over Kashmir’s communication lockdown, India’s economic slowdown, rise in petrol and diesel prices, falling rupee, the PMC bank crisis, Unnao-Chinmayanand rape cases, lynchings and many other relevant issues, Rahul Gandhi and the rest of the Congress party remained mute spectators. The opposition has fallen silent and the Congress’s silence seems the loudest.
Whether India misses a leader like him or not, Rahul Gandhi remains an enigma in India’s politics. In spite of all his mistakes, he’s still discussed. In spite of all his strengths, he still loses. A man whose eyes say he’s broken, continues to smile regardless.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.