Like Rahul Gandhi or dislike him, nobody in India can deny that the 53 year old former Congress President is a resilient leader.
From the industrial scale calumny heaped on him in a social media smear campaign without parallel anywhere in the world, to the supersonic speed with which he was suspended from Parliament as the Lok Sabha MP representing Wayanad — which even drew the ire of the Supreme Court that reinstated him — and now the delay in allowing him back in to the House, Gandhi has taken a lot of political punishment.
Gandhi was disqualified by a judge in Gujarat who gave him the maximum sentence allowed by the law — two years which is also exactly the period you need to face suspension from the House. Gandhi was evicted from his official residence of 19 years by the BJP government showing unusual alacrity.
Earlier the government had withdrawn his Special Protection Group (SPG) protection which ironically Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the first BJP Prime Minister, had extended the Gandhi family members for life because of the heightened security threat they faced.
Gandhi’s political resilience
Gandhi has come a long way from when he was launched as the ultimate silver spoon heir — a fifth generation dynast from a family that counted three Prime Ministers as his direct family. Gandhi initially seemed to disdain politics and the hard work it required, taking refuge in frequent breaks abroad.
He wasn’t someone the average Indian could identify with as he occupied a rarefied realm surrounded by courtiers of the Congress Party. The BJP made much of his origins to give him an image of a clueless, out-of-touch prince reeking of privilege.
Gandhi was a victim of this image trap, made worse by the lack of political success he suffered. The ultimate low point was his losing the family pocket borough of Amethi in 2019 Lok Sabha elections to Smriti Irani.
It’s a measure of how far Gandhi has come that the general feeling now is that Irani is obsessed with trolling and attacking Gandhi. She is called the troll minister on social media — someone Rahul chooses to ignore. The optics have clearly changed.
Gandhi drew a huge measure of sympathy when he was turned out of Parliament even from opposition leaders who he had always kept at arm's length.
For their part, senior opposition leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sharad Pawar didn’t quite know what to make of Gandhi.
Rahul’s transformational walkathon
What changed the game for Gandhi was the Bharat Jodo Yatra — the arduous walkathon across the length of India he undertook for five months. The walkathon played to his huge strength physical fitness.
Quipped a senior Congress leader to Gulf News, “Can any other senior leader ever undertake walking the length and breadth of India? They will sit atop a rath (chariot). Gandhi Unfiltered is a sincere, nice guy which people could see for themselves."
In India leaders who walk and seek answers are respected by the public. From Mahatma Gandhi to late Prime Minister Chandrashekhar - they all undertook walkathons to have a conversation with India.
Now with the biggest fight of 2024 general elections approaching, Gandhi 3.0 is on the anvil. Rahul is expected to undertake another yatra, the logistics of which are being currently worked out by the Congress party. Gandhi will also go and address university campuses across Europe and the United States and the UAE.
Rahul has established a working relationship with most senior opposition leaders and seeks to assure them that he wants to be the ideologue of the Congress party as I had first reported for Gulf News. His main theme now is a politics of purpose to repudiate the politics of division and hate which are tearing India apart.
Rahul repeatedly calls his brand of politics as “Mohabat ki dukan” (a shop of love). Now why would anyone have a problem with spreading love?