Newsmaker: The RG factor

If ever there is a contest for picking up the most ridiculed political figure in India, Rahul Gandhi will win hands down.  “Pappu”, a rather uncherished monicker that has stuck on him, will continue to be at the centre of countless memes flooding the social media highlighting the Congress president’s gaffes but with electoral victories in three Hindi heartland states he has set the record straight.

Before December 11, Rahul Gandhi was treading on the road to become one of the most unsuccesful politicians. The joke was that every time he spoke, BJP strengthens it’s vote bank. He was seen as the BJP’s most effective campaigner.

It has been exactly one year since he became president of the Congress party and judging by his performance one can safely say that he has got under the skin of the BJP which always treated him as a nincompoop usually found in every Indian neighbourhood. Finance minister Arun Jaitley called him clown prince. When asked to react to a Rahul Gandhi charge during the run up to the assembly poll, BJP president Amit Shah deflected it to spokesperson Sambit Patra dismissing the question.

Rahul Gandhi took a huge risk by becoming the president of the party in the middle of the Gujarat elections. To his credit, the Congress took the fight deep into the prime minister Narendra Modi’s bastion giving the BJP some real anxious moments. The Modi-Shah duo barely managed to save their turf. Rahul Gandhi won praise as well mocked for what was termed as moral victory.

What he could not achieve in Gujarat, happened in Karnataka. The BJP emerged the single latest party but it was the Congress, which formed the government by joining hands with Janata Dal (secular). If Gujarat was a moral victory for Rahul Gandhi, in Karnataka he gave the BJP a taste of its own medicine. The BJP had pulled the carpet from under the Congress party’s feet in Goa by forming the government in similar manner.

Despite the twin successes, Rahul Gandhi’s ability to take on Modi in a direct contest was always doubtful. Even the opposition, which wanted to put up a joint show against Modi in 2019 assembly elections, were unsure if Rahul Gandhi should become their face.

All these apprehensions about him disappeared earlier this week. By winning three crucial states in the Hindi heartland, Rahul Gandhi has made a significant impact in the first year as Congress president. Not only has he repaired his own image he has also resurrected the party.

He brought in systematic changes. The social media unit of the party became hugely aggressive. Professionals were hired to analyse data. Young blood in the party was synergised with experienced hands. The impact is there to see. The ‘clown prince’ has set himself up for the crown.

The political pundits had given a virtual walkover to prime minister Narendra Modi for the 2019 Lok Sabha election on account of the fact that there was no alternative to him. The narrative is beginning to change.

It will be naive to assume that it will now be easy to defeat Narendra Modi. Despite the poll debacle, there are indications to suggest that while in the popularity chart Modi might have taken a downward course he continues to remain a formidable choice for the voters.

After the defeat in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the BJP will come hard for the Lok Sabha elections. For a change, it is Rahul Gandhi who is setting the agenda. He encashed the agrarian crisis by announcing loan waiver and kept prime minister Modi under intense pressure on issues like corruption in the Rafale fighter jet deal and claiming fugitives like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Chowksi were allowed to leave India.

The BJP has got some reprieve as a UK court has cleared the way for the extradition of Vijay Mallya. The Supreme Court came to the government’s rescue by dismissing petitions seeking a probe into the Rafale deal. Even the Interpol has issued a red corner notice for Mehul Chowksi.

The government now has credible counter to tackle Rahul Gandhi’s charge. It remains to be seen if Rahul Gandhi has a surprise up his sleeve for 2019. Whatever may lie ahead, Rahul Gandhi’s first 12 months in office has proved that he is not a part-time shoot and scoot politician. It is also clear that when people want to throw a government out they don’t see who is the face next in line.

Rahul Gandhi has ensured that Narendra Modi and his team will have to come up with new ideas to counter the RG factor in Indian politics. Rahul Gandhi first hugged Modi in Parliament and then winked. Despite his claim that it was an impromptu act, the assembly election outcome shows that the Congress president had the last laugh.

Gautam Datt