Congress President Rahul Gandhi
After Rahul Gandhi wrote to Narendra Modi asking to allow Indians access to foreign Covid vaccines, the government has fast tracked emergency approvals for foreign-produced shots Image Credit: PTI

“First they ignore you.

Then they laugh at you.

Then they fight you

Then you win” tweeted Rahul Gandhi quoting an American labour union advocate Nicholas Klein. The quote is often misattributed to Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was tweeting about India opening up to all vaccines which he had demanded.

Gandhi long reviled and dismissed as a “Pappu” by the BJP’s insidious campaign against him has proved more right than wrong about the Covid-19 pandemic which has caught the BJP government napping.

As the fierce and vicious second wave of Covid laid waste, forcing a lockdown in Maharashtra, the government of India had only allowed two vaccines which were centrally controlled and not allowed for mass vaccination.

The attack

Gandhi asked for the government to allow all vaccines. In return the government which seems obsessed with Gandhi got three ministers including Smriti Irani, Ravishankar Prasad and Prakash Javdekar to troll and attack him as a “part time politician” who was “lobbying for foreign vaccines”.

B L Santosh, the most powerful general secretary (organisation), chimed in also to attack Gandhi. Even Dr Harshvardhan, the union health minister, attacked Gandhi. Prasad went to the extent of launching a personal attack and asking why Gandhi had not got the jab.

The backtrack

As the Covid crisis escalated two days later, the government did a volte face and allowed all foreign vaccines, which is exactly what Gandhi had demanded.

Four days ago, Gandhi tweeted “what India needs is jabs & jobs. What the BJP govt gives jumlas (statements) and jibes”. Gandhi has long been stressing and demanding mass vaccination from the government.

Gandhi and his sister, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, seeking the stark public health emergency, asked the government to cancel board exams for class 10th and 12th. B L Santosh then attacked on Twitter saying this would not happen”. Barely ten minutes later, the government cancelled the exam.

The point is that Gandhi is no sage but, he has been sharply perceptive on the public health emergency which clearly is the crisis that defines our age. Even before Covid-19 hit Indian shores, Gandhi had regularly been warning of the consequences. The government mocked and ignored him.

An IT cell to malign Gandhi

The growth industry of Gandhi critics helpfully aided by the infamous IT cell as I revealed in my investigative book “I am a troll” inside the secret digital army of the BJP has huge focus on Gandhi. “Pappu” memes and jokes are created on an industrial scale by the IT cell for disseminating on social media and WhatsApp to systematically wreck Gandhi’s reputation. The truth is that Gandhi sees no reason to reinvent himself. He is clear that India and the Congress party will have to accept him just as he is.

Gandhi is the only politician in India who has consistently been attacking Narendra Modi and the only leader who will not do a quiet deal with the hegemonic BJP. The party’s obsession with Gandhi is huge. Every time he tweets or attacks the government on a policy, senior ministers come out to trash him. Ironically they call him a “part time politician”, yet ministers like Irani devote all there time to attacking him. J P Nadda, BJP president, held a press conference to say that the BJP does not take Gandhi seriously.

The reason for this is apparent the BJP knows that the Congress party, even in its current enfeebled state, is the only pan Indian party which can take on the BJP. Hence they try to go after the Congress and the Gandhi family.

A cerebral, sensible leader

Gandhi is a cerebral, thoughtful politician who is inarticulate. That in India these days is a sign that you are not a good leader as opposed to the benchmark oratory of Modi.

The truth is that leadership is not merely oratory. And, whether you like Gandhi or dislike him, the fact that he has taken all the mockery directed at him and not let it affect him is huge.

So what next for Gandhi, post the results of the state polls? Gandhi has campaigned extensively in Kerala where he even did an impromptu dive in to the ocean, danced with students and did a display of martial arts. Conventional wisdom is that Gandhi’s return as Congress president will depend on the results. That is not true.

Gandhi is not going away from politics. Time the BJP, Congress party and the media, which is always giving him tutorials, learnt that.