Once the most ridiculed political leader in India, Rahul Gandhi on Monday filed his nomination to be elevated to the top post of the country’s grand old Congress party.
The 47-year-old scion of the Gandhi dynasty is set to take over the mantle from his mother Sonia Gandhi. Sonia has been party president since 1998, the longest period in the party’s 132-year-old history.
Rahul, who has been holding his current position of party vice-president for close to five years, is no longer considered to be the lightweight politician who was the butt of jokes in drawing room coversations and on social media.
Political pundits who had dismissed Rahul when the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stormed to power in 2014, are now taking his surge in popularity seriously. They are seeing hope in Rahul – as the man who can take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Modi has been facing problems since he unleashed his grand demonetisation scheme on unsuspecting Indians last November. The move to devalue high denomination currency notes to check corruption didn’t sit well with millions of Indians, neither did his biggest tax reform since the country’s independence – Goods and Services Tax (GST). The slow economic growth and rising unemployment have made the going for the ruling BJP far from rosy.
Right after Rahul filed his nomination papers, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he will “carry on” the “great traditions” of the Congress party.
“Rahul-ji is a darling of the Congress and has filed his papers today. This is another step in his (Rahul) quest for serving the people of the nation through the Congress party,” Singh said.
“Sonia Gandhi-ji has served the party for the last 19 years…Rahul Gandhi-ji will carry on the great traditions of the Congress party,” he added.
Modi termed Rahul’s imminent election as Congress boss as “Aurangzeb Raj”. He said the the Congress party was a “clan” with a feudal mindset.
The much-awaited elevation of Rahul, who is spearheading the Congress’ campaign for assembly polls in the northwestern state of Gujarat, has been a talking point for a couple of years. In between, there was talk of Priyanka, Rahul’s sister, in whom many see shades of her grandmother Indira Gandhi, the country’s former prime minister, taking over the baton from Sonia.
Following Rahul’s election, a few new faces are likely to be seen in the Congress Working Committee (CWC) – the party’s highest decision-making body – and a few familiar older faces may have to retire, to ease the inter-generational tension.
Rahul, whose every utterance was caricaturised by the BJP till not very long ago, has now left the ruling party worried. He is seen as an earthy and committed leader, compared to Modi who is clever and street smart.
Following his US tour earlier this year, people started perceiving Rahul differently. The BJP also sharpened its attack on Rahul, whom it started seeing as a potential threat. He took on Modi head-on and pooh-poohed his GST reform, calling it the Gabbar Singh Tax. Gabbar Singh is a famous character from a 1970s Bollywood film and the epitome of villainy.
While Rahul may not be able to make much of a dent in states that are to hold elections before the 2019 general election, he is certainly the headache the BJP, and most certainly Modi, hadn’t forseen when they called him “Pappu”, which could roughly translate into a dullard.
In recent years, Congress has performed hopelessly in almost all states that went to the polls, except Karnataka. Therefore, Rahul is being seen by veteran leaders as the “adrenaline shot” that will “inject” fresh energy into the Congress.
Not just the Congress, other parties are beginning to take Rahul seriously. Left party leader Sitaram Yechury, who earlier claimed that Rahul will not be able to bind the Opposition parties if he takes over the top post, has had a rethink.
Modi, who promised a clean government, was caught on the wrong foot when BJP president Amit Shah’s son’s business earnings were revealed in a media expose. The dramatic increase in Jay Shah’s businesses – the turnover of his company multiplying 16,000 times over – left the BJP red-faced.
Rahul sharpened his attack on the BJP, saying the Shahs had looted the country instead of serving as watchmen. A senior BJP leader jumped to his party’s defence saying “Rahul should step out of his diapers”. Rahul may just have by filing his nomination for the top Congress post.