A week is a long time in politics, former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said. Those watching Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi will attest to the transformative power of just over seven days in this session of Parliament.
The usually reticent Rahul’s image as a politician has got a complete makeover since his “suit-boot-ki-sarkar” speech last week. His adversaries, relishing the prospect of taking more digs at him for an unexplained eight-week leave of absence, have turned circumspect. Rahul 2.0, the buzzword in political circles nowadays, has emerged as confident, aggressive, witty and unflappable.
That the ruling party has started taking him more seriously is evident from the way ministers have been rising from their seats to intervene during his speeches in the Lok Sabha. “The fact is that we feel hamstrung as we are not in the opposition any more,” says a senior BJP leader.
The ruling party, for instance, thought of responding to Rahul’s suit-boot-ki-sarkar barb with a riposte that the Congress is “unsuited and booted out” but decided against, on the grounds that the government could not be seen reacting to “non-serious” remarks. BJP leaders find his speeches on land bill “full of rhetoric and without substance” but concede that all this has raised Rahul’s political profile.
His party colleagues are no less surprised by a change in his approach. He has been decisive and his response has been quick. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat wrote to him inviting him to Kedarnath one evening, and got a positive response the very next morning.
Early on Monday, Rahul informed his colleagues about his decision to visit mandis, or grain markets, in Punjab later in the day. Insiders say that he planned to walk for 20 km from Sirhind to Khanna mandi in Ludhiana but he had to travel by car as his train was running late. He also planned to spend the night sleeping on sacks in the mandi but there was a power outage and he had to leave due to security concerns. Congressmen, of course, have conspiracy theories about the “delayed” train and power outage.
“People have been asking us about his advisors and the new speech writer. The fact is there is nobody in particular. He is taking inputs from everybody but speaks his own mind. He comes to the House (in the Lok Sabha) with bullet points only,” says a Congress MP who is believed to be close to him.
Rahul 2.0 has forced his dissenters within the party to pause for thought. There hasn’t been a dissenting voice since his combative show at the farmers’ rally at Ramlila Maidan. As Rahul takes on the government on the land bill and tours Vidharba and other parts of the country in coming days, political observers are sceptical about how ‘aspirational India’ will respond to him. Right now though, he seems to be guiding the political discourse.