Exuding a rare confidence at the Ramlila Ground rally on Sunday, Rahul Gandhi managed to bring a smile on the faces of the Congress old guard, including the party’s former president Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, with a stirring speech that lasted for over 30 minutes. The newly-appointed Congress president’s words seemed to set off ripples of change in the air and a virtual wave of joy through rows of Congress supporters.
Rahul spoke with determination, conviction and, perhaps, a renewed resolve. The crowd responded in kind, getting visibly boisterous unlike in the past when people would start walking away even before he had finished his speech, as was the case a year ago at the same venue in the run-up to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections. The MCD elections were taking place soon after the Congress’ rout in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls and there seemed to be simply no stopping the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah election juggernaut.
The question on everybody’s minds now is whether Rahul has shed the Pappu tag for good and can he beat the Modi-Shah combination at their own game—that of winning elections after elections?
The rank and file of the Congress certainly seem to think so. The party is projecting Rahul’s Sunday speech as a battle cry for 2019 and the elections in some important states before that. The great hope the party attaches to Rahul’s Ramlila Maidan speech is not totally unfounded. The hairsplitting over what he said on Sunday began soon after the speech got over. A video went into circulation on Whatsapp early next morning, raising questions on Rahul eulogising the ‘palm of hand’, the Congress’s election symbol. The palm can be seen in images related to leaders and precursors of so many and nearly all major faiths, including that of Hazrat Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam.
The point the video tries to make is, although there have never been any pictures of the caliphs or the leaders of early Islam, Rahul Gandhi included them in his zeal to introduce an aura of divinity to his party and its symbol.
The makers of the video tried to twist what Rahul said but the critics of the Congress president forget that there are umpteen legends and lore associated with most faiths. In the case of Islam, these have mostly been oral and not pictorial, although there have been paintings and animated depiction of Islamic history. In Ali’s case, many sermons and similar religious discourses have hailed him for his kindness on the one hand and his physical prowess and military skills on the other. Thus, the reference to his hand by Rahul cannot be said to be as unfounded as the video tries to make it out to be.
In fact, it is the video that is dubious. It is over a year old and it is clearly trying to fan fake news. The video is from a YouTube channel called The Sarcastic People. A postscript on the channel says “Published on 24 January, 2017”. Yet, those who brought it in circulation want people to believe the clip is from Rahul’s latest speech.
The efforts to target Congress on social media are not new. A few days before Rahul’s rally, BJP president Amit Shah held a rally in Rae Bareli, Sonia Gandhi’s constituency. It was the BJP’s answer to the Congress’ plans to project Rahul as the country’s best bet.
Shah’s attempt at trying to hurt Sonia’s personal stakes in her own constituency has, perhaps, been taken note of by the Congress. A delegation of farmers from Varanasi, Modi’s parliamentary constituency, landed at Jantar Mantar on Monday to express their wrath against the government’s land acquisition on the periphery of Varanasi to build a transport facility. Quite a few Congress leaders are flocking to Jantar Mantar to extend their sympathies to the agitating farmers.
Yet, as the battle between the two parties intensifies, Rahul’s political transformation after being lampooned so much reminds one of Kalidasa who rose to great heights in the field of literature after being spurned by his wife.
Scholars jealous of the knowledge possessed by the king’s daughter, Vidyotma, tricked her into marrying the simpleton, Kalidasa. When the princess realises her husband is a fool, she insults and leaves him. Upset and angry, Kalidasa takes up learning and goes on to become one of India’s greatest poets and playwrights.