Why Rahul, why not them?
Those recommending Rahul Gandhi to connect to masses overlooked his extensive exercise to visit diverse areas and connect with the different sections of people
It is amazing to find some Congress leaders suggesting that their party president Rahul Gandhi should go on a three to four month long walking tour of the country 'to connect with people'. There are suggestions that Rahul should remain the president but leave day-to-day functioning in the hands of a presidium, and go on a discovery of India on foot or by train. Are these people telling us that after his unfathomable journey of 15 years in politics, Rahul has no or less connect with masses? If this is what they meant, let me tell them that no one in the Congress party other than Rahul undertook such an extensive exercise to visit diverse areas and platforms to connect with the different sections of people. He, today, has much more exposure about people and issues than any of his contemporary party-colleagues including his seniors.
Most of us remember the days when Rahul Gandhi was advised by her mother and the then Congress president Sonia Gandhi to visit the remote rural areas across the country to understand the basics of India's socio-political realities. You may also recall that how after intensively touring villages, Rahul shared his realisation of the presence of 'two Indias, one of haves and one of have-nots' and vouched for working towards the welfare of have-nots. After formally joining politics in March 2004, Rahul has been successfully working to enhance his connect to masses.
For two years after entering into Parliament from Amethi in 2004, Rahul did not take up any other position. He only remained a member of the Lok Sabha. He was made General Secretary of the Congress party on September 24, 2007. For the next five-and-a-half years, till his elevation to the position of Congress Vice President in January 2013, Rahul made his sincere efforts to transform the youth and student wings of his party. He also tried to give Seva Dal a modern look. He picked up around three dozens of youth leaders from across the country through an in-depth exercise of interviews in November 2008 that created a think tank for the Youth Congress. The membership of youth and student wings increased from 2,00,000 to 25,00,000 in few months. Certain inbuilt flaws in the implementation of internal elections in these wings provided space to a section of party veterans for manipulation with IYC and NSUI turning into fence sitters.
To understand the earnestness of Rahul Gandhi's keenness in connecting with masses, one can still visit Halki Bai of Taparian village in Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh, who suddenly found a nice young man dressed in a 'ridiculously' white Pajama-Kurta standing at her door on April 12, 2008. To get a feel of life below the poverty line, Rahul undertook several such tours in the different parts of the country. His night stay in Shiv Kumari Kori's hut with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband at Simara village in Uttar Pradesh in January 2009 was also a part of his mission to discover rural India. This was also the year when Rahul addressed more than 125 rallies in six weeks during the polls for Lok Sabha.
The same year, on a Wednesday of September, his 24-hour long 'secret' mission in UP kept everyone on tenterhooks till he flew back to New Delhi from Lucknow on Thursday evening — September 25. At the end of his trip on that Wednesday, at Lucknow's Amousi airport, Rahul eluded the local media and left to his mission. He took a Toyota Innova taxi that drove him to Rampur-Deogan village under Bhinga sub-division of Shravasti district along the Indo-Nepal border where he spent the night in the home of a Dalit — Chhedi Pasi. This was when Mayawati was the Chief Minister of the state.
Who does not remember Rahul's local train journey in Mumbai in early February 2010? The same year in August, Rahul travelled to Niyamgiri Hills of Odisha where his efforts could stall the mining and spent time with tribals. He assured them that he will work as their sepoy in Delhi. A few months later his Bhatta-Parsaul movement shook the nation in 2011 where he was arrested. In 2012, Rahul campaigned for UP assembly polls for full two months and held more than 200 rallies.
After taking over as the Vice President of the Congress party in Jaipur AICC session held in January 2013, Rahul accelerated his mass contact program. Even after 2014's debacle, Rahul did not sit at home. Once he recovered from the initial shock of this defeat, which was primarily a result of Narendra Modi's larger than life projection and the presence of too many amateur cooks in the Congress campaign kitchen, Rahul again began infusing his party with new vitality. After coming back from an undisclosed location where he went for meditation, he addressed a huge rally of farmers at New Delhi's Ramlila Maidan on April 19, 2015. The same year he fought with full endurance against the land bill introduced by the ruling BJP in Parliament.
Rahul's visits to campuses within and outside the country also created huge waves in favour of him and his party's ideology. His ideas have been attracting large fan-following for him. His speeches could catch the attention of a large section of corporate India when he interacted at forums such as FICCI and CII. Rahul's participation at different forums of Indian diasporas in the US, UK, Germany and UAE hooked up a huge section of Indians with him.
Rahul Gandhi's interaction with students at the University of California, Berkeley and Princeton University, where thousands of students were present to listen to him and ask questions, proved milestones. When he spoke his mind at the forum of NRIs at New York in September 2017, his claim as a strong and long-required alternate to Narendra Modi was clearly established. His public engagement at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in August 2018, where he addressed a gathering on 'India's Economic Growth and Foreign Policy in an Uncertain World' reassured everyone that he could be a better replacement to Modi as the next prime minister of India. Rahul's address to UK parliamentarians at a cross-party event at the Grand Committee Room in Britain's House of Commons, in an 'In-Conversation' event at the London School of Economics and dinner meeting organised by the Mayor of Richmond at the Old Town hall in the south-west London proved that he has capability at par with any world leader when it comes to having a global vision.
Indian campuses were equally thrilled to get a glimpse of Rahul's range of views for the betterment of India. His interaction in the Mount Caramel College at Bangalore in November 2015 and in Stella Maris College at Chennai in March this year left historical imprints. More than any other person in his party, Rahul is aware of the fact that rising tide doesn't always raise all boats. What about the people who don't have a boat? He realises the prerequisite to give them the infrastructure to rise with the tide. Not Rahul but they, who suggest a walk-tour for him, must tour India on their foot.
(The author is Editor & CEO of News Views India and a national office bearer of the Congress party. The views expressed are strictly personal)