Around this time ten years ago, Rahul Gandhi was more “high profile” political leader than Narendra Modi. He was described by Congress supporters and fans as the Prince destined to be Emperor. During a speech delivered to women voters in a rally in Madhya Pradesh in 2013, Rahul Gandhi was criticising the Shivraj Singh Chauhan led BJP government for corruption. Unfortunately, instead of saying “bhrashtachar”, he ended up saying “Balatkar”. A few months prior to this, he had evoked much laughter while interacting with CEOs at a CII event by describing India as a beehive. Many, including this author thought such slips were all right as he was a young leader who would mature with time and experience. Besides, even seasoned orators like Narendra Modi are prone to gaffes.
Sadly, nothing of that sort has happened in the intervening ten years. I thought there a brief flicker of hope when Rahul Gandhi went on that ambitious Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. His critics scoffed; but for most Indians who are not deeply polarised, what Rahul Gandhi did was indeed praiseworthy. It needs grit, stamina and focus to conduct such a gruelling exercise. Many thought the Congress leader was finally maturing and emerging as a serious challenger to Narendra Modi. Anyone who loves India knows that a strong opposition is good for the country as it keeps the ruling regime on its toes. But the tantalising promise was short lived, and Rahul Gandhi was back to his immature self. During a press conference in Delhi, he hectored a journalist and branded him a BJP voter and even lectured Rajdeep Sardesai by effectively describing Rajdeep as a Congress supporter. Having done all that, he grinned like a schoolboy and boasted like a schoolboy: “Dikha Diya Na?” That press conference was truly cringe worthy. Fans of Rahul and assorted people who detest Modi gloated that day and cheered and applauded Rahul for “giving a tight slap to Godi Media”. The exchange went viral on what’s app groups. But barring die hard Congress supporters, most Indians found his behaviour childish and in poor taste. Are his advisors so out of touch with what ordinary Indians think?
His gaffes and childish remarks continue. In a recent interaction with the media, Rahul Gandhi said that the ruling governments in Rajasthan and Chattisgarh would lose the assembly elections scheduled for November. When he realised both the states are ruled by the Congress, out came the trademark smirk. In another interaction in Mizoram, he continued his tirade against Adani. He has every right as a politician to attack Adani and accuse Modi of doling out favours to the tycoons. But does he sound credible while launching these attacks? I thought he might have learnt some lessons from the 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign. Back then, he kept hammering the point that Modi had given favours worth s 30,000 crores to industrialist Anil Ambani. Not many except core Congress voters bought that. Not many are buying this campaign against Adani. India has changed from the Nehruvian days when all businessmen, entrepreneurs and industrialists were banded as rapacious thieves. Today, young Indians cheer successful entrepreneurs as role models. Unless Rahul Gandhi and his associates present credible evidence, most Indians will ignore his repeated attacks on the alleged Modi-Adani nexus. Coming back to that Mizoram meeting, Rahul told the audience with a rhetorical flourish that money goes into the pocket of Adani every time you press a button to switch on a light or fan. His fans loved it. Most Indians found it childish.
Another habit that Rahul has picked up since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections is to visit the United States and UK and address seminars and round tables where he keeps harping on two things: the first is that the so called “majoritarian Hindutva” regime of Modi is behaving in such a manner than Muslims and other minorities are no longer safe in India. Now, he would be justified if he said that instances of cow vigilantism and hateful remarks by some bigoted Hindus are not healthy for Indian democracy. But to accuse the Indian State of deliberately discriminating against Muslims is taking it too far. In any case, numerous surveys carried out by credible agencies reveal that an overwhelming majority of Muslims say they have all the from in India to practise their religion and live as they wish. The other point that he keeps hammering in his overseas meetings is that the Modi regime has murdered democracy in India. That is astounding because the Congress has handsomely won Karnataka in May this year and is poised to win three out of the four major states going for polls in November. How exactly has democracy been murdered?
I had hopes during and after the Bharat Jodo Yatra that Rahul would finally emerge as a mature leader. That he would offer a coherent economic plan that wold help improve the livelihoods of the poor. Alas, all he offers is bluster and promises of unions freebies.