The Congress did not get Rahul Gandhi in the shape insiders were demanding to see, or rivals taunting them about. But they got a very different, much better Rahul Gandhi in the bargain. An unexpected breath of life was infused into party cadre at the AICC session in Delhi’s Talkatora stadium on Friday as its youthful vice president showed the first hint of real charisma in a fired-up, hard-hitting speech — that papered over the negativities surrounding the party and its government.
Rahul was addressing a captive audience comprising party faithfuls. But even so, judged by his standards, this was a giant leap. As the aisles overflowed with enthusiastic cheers and TV studios filled with debates on “the new Rahul”, it was clear that one big lacuna in Rahul’s political resume — the ability to connect with a crowd with the help of words and ideas — was being filled in front of everyone’s eyes.
He lit into the BJP saying it was all about ‘marketing’. “Yeh ganjon jo kange bechenge (they can sell combs to the bald),’’ he said, his new rhetorical pitch finding a huge resonance in the crowd.
The whole speculation in the run-up to the AICC session had centred around whether the party would go into electoral battle with Rahul as its clear prime ministerial candidate. The party has been responding over the past few days with confused and diffident signals and Rahul himself had not brought much clarity to it.
The whole picture — of yes, no and maybe, of a transparent desire to avoid a direct faceoff with BJP’s nominee Narendra Modi — got erased as a new, gladiatorial Rahul hit the podium with a speech that combined in equal parts ethos and a pragmatic, long-term vision with immediate populism.
There was an English section where he pressed the right ideological buttons. He placed the Congress at the heart of modern India and spoke about the UPA’s entitling approach to growth.
Switching to Hindi, he ramped the rhetoric even further, claiming a democratic surge in the Congress, citing the fact that the youth wing delegates present in the hall were all elected representatives.