Sandeep Sahu

Of late – since his much publicized US visit in September, to be more precise – there has been a spate of reports and commentaries in the national media about the ‘metamorphosis’ of Rahul Gandhi. The commentators would have us believe that the Congress scion has undergone a complete makeover after returning from his nearly two-month long visit to an unknown foreign destination. They have discerned a spring in his feet, a newly acquired gift of repartee and a new found ability to articulate issues in a way that his audience understands: in short, a Rahul Gandhi Mark 2.0.

Simultaneously, the Congress Vice President has been making waves in the social media with his witty remarks on issues and events and intelligent digs at the man he seeks to replace: Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Even as the Twitteratti kept wondering if this transformation marked a sudden rise in his IQ level after his agyaantvaas or was the result of the appointment of a new Twitter handler, @OfficeOfRG came up with a tongue-in-cheek riposte pointing to his pet dog Pidi as the author of his tweets! Like his earlier tweet about the ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ (GST), this one too went viral in no time, though it did invite more than its fair share of ridicule for what many considered its inappropriate simile.

Coverage of his electioneering in Gujarat in the English media has bordered on the effusive. He has been hailed as the man who is giving the ‘lion’ a run for his money in his den. The more excited sections of the media are already predicting an end to the 22-year long rule of the BJP in the Prime Minister’s home state. Well before the Congress anoints Rahul as the party President, the media has already anointed him as the shadow Prime Minister. Rahul Gandhi’s transformation may or may not be for real, but there is no denying the transformation in the way the media sees the Congress heir apparent these days. This is rather surprising because the same media was brushing up on its vocabulary of sarcasm every time Rahul opened his mouth not too long ago.

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Wonder of wonders, even an implacable foe like the Shiv Sena has begun to see new found virtues in the Congress Vice President with senior Sena leader Sanjay Raut asserting that he had outgrown his Pappu tag and is now ready to take his rightful place in Indian politics. While Raut’s comment may have more to do with his party’s ongoing tug of war with its long time ally, the BJP, it does open up the prospect of a realignment of forces ahead of the next general elections.

But the big question is; is Rahul Gandhi 2.0 for real? Or is it a case of a section of the media desperate to see the end of Narendra Modi clutching at straws to build him up as the Great New Hope for the country?

If the commentariat is basing its reassessment of Rahul on the size of the crowd that he is drawing in Gujarat, it may be committing a grave error of judgment. Election after election has taught us that predicting electoral outcomes on the basis of the crowd that a party or a leader draws is fraught with hazard. From choosing the right candidate for each constituency to getting the caste/community configuration right, from galvanizing the grassroots party workers to managing rebellion by those who lose out on a ticket, there is a lot else that can make the difference between victory and defeat for a party. Whether the Congress ticks all the right boxes would be known only on December 18 when the votes cast in the Gujarat Assembly elections are counted.

If the Congress does emerge victorious in Gujarat, it would undoubtedly put Rahul in the driver’s seat and hasten his ascension to the party throne. Because besting the BJP in Modi’s home turf would be a giant leap of faith that would galvanize party workers across the country. Even if it wins in Gujarat, however, it does not automatically follow that the Congress would romp back to power in 2019. Rahul has to do a lot more to pose a serious enough challenge to Modi. But his main task would be to put the Congress house, especially its long neglected state units, in order. His handling of the festering dissidence in the party’s Odisha unit, for example, does not inspire much confidence in this regard. But if Rahul Gandhi Mark II is for real, who knows, he might do the seemingly implausible, arrest the slide and spearhead a surge in the party’s fortunes!