Has Rahul Gandhi returned a new, reinvigorated and forceful politician? Or are first impressions beguiling but deceptive? The Congress party has no doubt the answer is a resounding yes. But that’s to be expected.
The amazing thing is the press, almost overwhelmingly, agrees. Television discussions speak of his new vigour and a more compelling assertiveness. The commentary in the newspapers supports this conclusion. Even the BJP is unable to convincingly disagree! Doubt seems to have entered the party’s mind.
But what do the facts suggest? Do they support the media’s conclusion or have we all collectively jumped the gun, even if it’s not clear why that should be the case?
There are three new qualities that lie at the heart of the favourable impression Rahul Gandhi created, initially at his rally last Sunday and subsequently with his speech in the Lok Sabha on Monday.
First, his style. He spoke with an eloquence he has rarely shown previously. His manner was strong and forceful. Most importantly, he seemed to be enjoying himself. That established a critical connect with the audience.
This was most obvious in his Lok Sabha speech. He taunted the BJP by repeatedly referring to Mr Modi as “your Prime Minister”. When they complained he turned their protest on its head by mischievously asking “So is he not your Prime Minister? Don’t you want to accept him?” It was a simple rhetorical tactic but effective in the circumstances. The Rahul Gandhi of old rarely displayed such flourishes. Perhaps he lacked the confidence to do so.
The second new quality emerged from Rahul Gandhi’s content. The claim that Mr Modi won an election on the strength of loans taken from crorepatis and will now return this debt by forcing farmers to sell land cheaply to industrialists may be calumny but it seemed to strike a chord with the audience. More importantly, it unnerved the BJP. This is because even if the charge is untrue or unprovable it could, nonetheless, stick. That’s what counts in politics.
The third quality — and for me, personally, the most surprising — is Rahul Gandhi was able to show how Congress policies were more beneficial for farmers than those of the BJP. This point was at the heart of his Lok Sabha speech. The facts he cited were not just pertinent but seemed convincing. They were rammed home with evidence to prove the government has no idea of the extent of crop damage following the unseasonal rains and, therefore, cannot be serious about tackling this problem.
So what does this add up to? I have no doubt last week we saw a different Rahul Gandhi to the one we’ve grown accustomed to. But is this a new man? Or did he simply benefit from two good days? After all, eight weeks of thought and contemplation can give anyone a good start. The key issue is will it continue? Will he build on it?
That’s where the jury is out and we won’t have its verdict for a while. Mr Gandhi has to be observed carefully and critically in a variety of situations, over a period of time, before we know whether the reluctant politician has transformed into pradhan mantri.
Well begun, they say, is half done but I suspect that’s because they want to encourage the effort. Crackers, on the other hand, often sparkle only to fizzle out. Rahul Gandhi has made a good start but he still has to dispel the doubts and disappointment that stubbornly linger.
The views expressed by the author are personal