Clockwise from top left: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi interacts with the young supporters while leading the party's Bharat Jodo Yatra, in Alwar, Rahul Gandhi along with his sister and party's general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and her daughter Miraya Vadra during the party's Bharat Jodo Yatra, in Bundi, Rahul Gandhi interacts with the Kerala Kasavu Silk weavers during the party's Bharat Jodo Yatra, at Balaramapuram, in Thiruvananthapuram and Rahul Gandhi embraces a supporter during party's Bharat Jodo Yatra, at Choutkul, in Sangareddy. Image Credit: ANI

Rahul Gandhi knelt down on the road and tied his mother’s shoelaces just as any one of us would do for our parents.

My father loves walking but suffers from diabetic neuropathy in his feet. Whenever we walk in Lodhi gardens in Delhi, I am anxious to grab his hand and he holds mine unselfconsciously.

The visceral bond between parents and children is made of blood. Gandhi shared a picture with his arms around his mother Sonia Gandhi and captioned it — “the love I have got from her, I am sharing with the country”.

Even the most cynical political journalists, who have made Rahul Gandhi bashing a fast growing cottage industry, cannot fault the close bonds the Gandhi family shares. It’s not scripted. It is real, warm and humane.

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Gandhi makes it a point to hold hands with his fellow travellers in his Bharat Jodo Yatra (Unite India March), hoists little kids on to his shoulders when they falter and looks unfailingly cheerful on gruelling daily walk that begins at four in the morning.

The Yatra (march) began on Sep. 7 from Kanyakumari and will pass through 12 states, culminating in Jammu and Kashmir — spanning a distance of nearly 3,500km over the course of about 150 days. He has 448km more to go.

Former Reserve bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan and Congress Leader Rahul Gandhi interacting during the party's Bharat Jodo Yatra, in Sawai Madhopur Image Credit: ANI

Turning the tables on BJP

In the Delhi leg of the Yatra, which was joined by huge crowds, Gandhi played smart politics by visiting the samadhi of the first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was utterly unlike the present BJP.

Vajpayee, like Gandhi, believed that political opponents were not enemies and was unfailingly courteous to political rivals. He once recalled how he owed his life to Rajiv Gandhi, who ensured that his government paid for Vajpayee’s successful kidney transplant.

Gandhi made Vajpayee a full delegate of India’s foreign mission to the United Nations. Sonia Gandhi has also made references to the grace of Vajpayee. When the Indian Parliament was attacked in 2001, Gandhi quickly called to check on the safety of Vajpayee.

With his visit to the Atal memorial, Rahul is drawing a line in the sand as the BJP has earlier made an attempt to co-opt Sardar Patel in the BJP pantheon.

Despite, literally being on the road for months, Gandhi is unfailingly courteous and warm to the people who have turned out and made his Yatra a huge success. A success against all odds. Initially the BJP and most of India’s tame media wrote off the Yatra.

This when not even a single step had been walked. Then they said it would only work in South India where Gandhi is an MP from Wayanad, Kerala. Grudgingly success and crowds in Tamil Nadu were ascribed to the ruling DMK, a Congress ally. As crowds swelled, the Yatra continued to be ignored by the mainstream media.

The real Rahul, not IT Cell’s meme

When Raghuram Rajan, one of the most cerebral economists in the world, who had foreseen the collapse of the global economy in 2008 and who is a former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) walked with Gandhi, the media (that had been ignoring Rahul) started attacking Rajan for joining the Yatra.

Yes, leaders should never brain storm with economists about ideas on how to improve the economy and make life better for people but, and should consult charlatans selling snake oil ideas. I felt that the attack on Rajan and for once even Gandhi was unfair and said so.

Gandhi also cheerfully addresses pressers on the Yatra where he smiles and points out to the journalists asking questions that his answers won’t appear in the mainstream media because of the blackout imposed on the Yatra. Gandhi is absolutely right. Thus far the Yatra has found traction on social media but not much in India’s mainstream media.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi carries a young girl on his shoulders while leading the party's Bharat Jodo Yatra, in New Delhi Image Credit: ANI

Fall of the ivory tower

So what makes Yatra a success? Perhaps India is finally getting to see the real Rahul Gandhi in his Kanyakumari to Kashmir outreach despite the manufactured image that had been foisted on him.

As I revealed in my investigative book “I am a troll” inside the secret digital army of the BJP — there are call centres which send out Photoshopped images, clipped and edited videos and jokes on an industrial scale.

Misinformation on Rahul Gandhi were circulated without any one calling out or even a pushback from the Gandhi family and the Congress party.

The image presented was that of a dim, entitled fifth generation dilettante, who had never worked a day in his life and had got everything on a silver spoon. On the other hand an excessively cautious Gandhi family tried to present Gandhi in the image of his family.

None of that was the real Gandhi and the voters discerned that — they couldn’t see the real Rahul Gandhi who remained a mystery despite spending years in politics. The rarefied ivory tower and the security bubble cut him off from India.

Rajiv Gandhi, his father, was someone India could relate to. He had a regular job as an Indian airlines pilot and before he became a politician, used to eat ice cream at Delhi’s India gate.

Fit, graceful and raring to go

The Yatra plays to Gandhi’s strength. He’s physically extremely fit and is finally indulging in a political exercise he actually enjoys. The added bonus is that he gets to interact with and boost cadre spirit.

Gandhi is laconic, clearly not a big orator but, as he walks, that doesn’t matter. Rahul once said he believes power is poison. No one believed him.

Today he seems to be actually living those beliefs. Gandhi was accused of having short attention span. The Yatra commitment belies that image.

Rivals kept saying that Gandhi was an “anti-national”. Can the accusation be made now as he walks the length and breadth of India, preaching love and harmony?

The accusations don’t work anymore. Currently we see Gandhi unfiltered and quite like him in his T-shirt in the icy cold and his almost Karl Marxian bushy beard despite what a media, largely biased, claims.

Having tracked Gandhi through his entire political career I will hazard a prediction — my dear SWAT analysis readers — Gandhi is here to stay and will be the ideologue of India’s secular voices — something the Congress needs.

Gandhi says he is trying to sell love in a hate-filled atmosphere. As a citizen of my beloved country, I want to see an India where love triumphs over toxicity.