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Rahul Gandhi 3.0

With the government cornered on its handling of the economy, Rahul Gandhi is finally playing the role of a worthy opponent.

Rahul Gandhi 3.0Rahul Gandhi is making a comeback with feisty speeches like the one he recently delivered at University of California, Berkeley

Rahul Gandhi has been called a lot of things in the last three years. He has been ridiculed for his guffaws, criticised for his lack of ideas and chastised for being an unwilling scion of the Congress. But, every dog has its day and that day seems to have finally come for the Congress leader who is poised to take over as party President from mother, Sonia Gandhi.

His recent speeches, such as the one at UC Berkeley, have shown rare clarity, as he finally starts playing a worthy opponent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gandhi tried a revamp once before, around the time of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections; but, neither the various PR ploys nor his planned public appearances made a dent in the ensuing polls. In fact, the nomenclature of 'Pappu' resonated high and assumed permanence in the language of many who discussed him. But the effort to position Gandhi, as a leader who will keep at it in spite of mockery, continued and seems to be finally paying off.
'Nothing succeeds like success,' and at the moment little seems to be going the ruling party's way. The BJP came to power riding high on the plank of growth, development and job creation. The Indian economy was robust and gearing towards newer achievements. But it takes an inept captain and his crew to single-handedly run the economy into the ground in just three years, in spite of, favourable global winds such as falling crude prices. A telling sign, when the PM is tom-tomming just one government initiative of 'electricity for all' as the government's biggest achievement in three years. Not job creation, not GDP numbers, just electricity for all.
So, where RG 2.0 may have failed, RG 3.0 may just work. Timing in politics always holds the key and there could be no better time than now for the resurgence of the Congress leader. Coming at the back of the economic disaster caused by demonetisation and now the demand of transitional credit of Rs 65,000 crore by taxpayers, Gandhi and other Opposition leaders have the arms to corner the government. The economy is in such disrepair that the government has been forced to instate an economic advisory council à la former PM Manmohan Singh. Shocking that even that has to be done, considering the star team of Arvind Panagariya (now exited), Arun Jaitley, Arvind Subramanian and Amitabh Kant, were helming the government's various policy decisions.
So, 'cometh the hour, cometh the man'? From the look of the acerbic yet witty social media messages being put out by Gandhi's Twitter handle, one would definitely believe so. With a saffron scarf and 'tilak' on his forehead, in a smart move, Gandhi also visited four temples (including climbing 650 steps to reach a hilltop one) during his just-concluded three-day Gujarat trip; Hinduism is not the prerogative of the BJP alone. Many who had written him off as a fumbling political leader thrust into a world where he does not belong and perhaps, does not even want to, are being made to sit up and take notice. This is not the same Gandhi.
Gandhi also scores well on the personal charm index. He is very unlike our PM, who is most amiable during his overseas tours sharing jokes, anecdotes and hugs with global leaders, businessmen and journalists, but is quite a sour puss back home. PM Modi has neither been accessible to journalists nor willing to have an honest chat with the media. Only selective journalists with filtered questions and agenda have had a chance to convey the PM's side of matters. The PM's image of being a strong, stoic leader who does not shy away from taking tough decisions has now given way to show the error in his policies. With criticism mounting on the government even from within the party (read: Yashwant Sinha), the PM cannot fall back on charisma. Hard questions are now being asked after three years of patient silence and it is most disheartening to see that the government is still in denial.
It will be good news for all if the Indian economy manages to get out of the woods. But no amount of self-denial or bravado will fix the mess. It is time for an honest admission of facts, and a speedy yet effective plan to save what was once the world's fastest-growing economy. And, till that is done, leaders such as Gandhi are set to assume centre stage. If Modi is a true believer in democracy, he will not be shaken by Gandhi's resurrection. Frankly, every true winner craves for a challenger and there's no democracy without a healthy opposition. This puppy though has a lot to say and people are listening; and it increasingly looks unlikely to come under the wheel, again.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

Shutapa Paul

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