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Here comes the new congress

india Updated: Aug 05, 2008 20:15 IST
Kumkum Chadha
Kumkum Chadha
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

‘Thank God the Prime Minister didn’t deliver his speech in Parliament,” remarked a Congressman after the trust vote. “His mild-mannered delivery would have destroyed the punch of the written text.” Nothing could be more true. It was an aggressive text targeting LK Advani and Prakash Karat. If Singh advised Advani to change his astrologers, he cautioned the Left against “miscalculations by their General Secretary”. Despite claims that Singh had re-written the text to rebut Advani’s earlier barbs, it was difficult to associate the language with the mild-mannered Manmohan Singh.

The emergence of the New Singh has surprised the Congress and shocked the Opposition. On that fateful July 22 afternoon, before MPs cast their votes, the self-described “bonded slave” of the Left rediscovered himself.

But the trust vote win wasn’t about Singh alone. It was also about the Congress changing. And three players were responsible for giving out this signal.

Pranab Mukherjee: The first day of the trust vote debate saw an unusually angry Foreign Minister. Mukherjee intellectually overpowered the BJP, overturning Advani’s description of the “government in an ICU” on its head, and set the tone for the two-day debate. After Mukherjee, the Congress gained a psychological advantage over the BJP.

Priyanka gandhi: Her attire — dark trousers and a tucked-in white shirt — caught everyone’s notice. One thing was clear: this was a carefully crafted move to send a message across the board — a younger, trendier and modern Congress set to move ahead and address global challenges has arrived.

Rahul Gandhi: The bespectacled dimpled heir had spoken in Parliament before. But his July 22 speech was his debut as an MP who could thaw even the hardened. To his critics, his references to Kalawati and Sasikala were, to quote a bureaucrat, “excerpts from an NCERT book”. For others, it was a show of “immaturity”. But clearly, he was using the legislative platform to reach out to the people of the country. That is why he chose to speak “as an Indian” rather than as a Congress parliamentarian.

Both Priyanka and Rahul used the occasion to connect with the nation — the former through the galleries and the latter from the legislative floor.

In all this, one thing has emerged: the Congress is changing and putting an archaic political mindset where it belongs — in the attic.