Twenty-four years ago, as Rajiv Gandhi lit his mother's pyre, young Rahul fought back tears. Coupled with the grief of losing a doting grandmother, Indira Gandhi, Rahul perhaps could not come to terms with the way she went: bullet-ridden, shot by men of the very country for which he spoke in Parliament on Tuesday.
Those who were at Shakti Sthal that afternoon in 1984 recall how Rajiv Gandhi had put his arm around the 14-year-old trying to come to terms with destiny.
Seven years later, the script was rewritten: once again a bloody end with scant remains of his father's body. This time it was Rahul who replayed Rajiv Gandhi's role. Stoic and calm, he lit the pyre, and walked slowly to where his mother Sonia Gandhi stood. In 1984, his father's touch comforted him; in 1991, he held his mother firmly.
When Rahul put his arm around Sonia that afternoon at Vir Bhoomi, the comparison with Rajiv Gandhi was obvious and spontaneous.
Not much has changed since then. Even now, Rahul is compared to his dead father: whether it is his looks or his reluctance to be a politician. While young women can write volumes on his charm, cynical politicians can fill sheaths dismissing him as a political novice.
In a sense they are right. Rahul is a political novice. He is incapable of speaking a political language. Just like his father who spoke from his heart. And in the process if he made political blunders, he was alienated from seasoned politicians but linked to the people of this country.
This is the formula Rahul used to the hilt while speaking on the nuclear deal on Tuesday. While his opening remarks on speaking as an Indian rather than a politician drew instant applause within the House, outside it endeared him to the millions watching the proceedings live.
Rahul chose the “storytelling tool” to drive home the point about energy security. His protagonists were Kalawati and Sasikala. Kalawati, Rahul told the House, was a widow who had diversified her crop to stabilise her family of nine children: “Nuclear energy is going to act like Kala's main crop and act as an insurance policy in times of need,” he said. In his short speech Rahul weaved content with sentiment.
He also disarmed the Opposition, particularly the BJP, when he said it would be unfair not to accept that Vajpayee had seen the problem and worked on a solution: "I will take a step most politicians normally do not. I will make a central assumption that everybody in this room whether they come from BJP, SP, BSP, Shiv Sena or the Congress, speak in the interest of this nation….any voice can disrupt another's in this room but we are all here to build this country and together we will sit and solve the problem".
What also came across through his apolitical speech was his conviction and the ability to see and show the big picture. “It does not matter how the world impacts us, what is important is how we impact the world,” Rahul said.
The speech in Parliament is over. But, what remains is the emergence of a young leader who stumped the Opposition, wooed the seniors and made the Congress do a jig.
For those who watched the 14-year-old at the Shakti Sthal in 1984, Rahul Gandhi has come a long way, chartering his own course on the strength of an enviable “nation connect”.