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One Take | Method in Madness: How Congress Is Repackaging Rahul Once More as Possible PM Pick


One Take

In the Congress, there often is a method in the madness, and nothing is said without a reason. So, when Kamal Nath suddenly in an interview said that Rahul Gandhi would be the party’s prime ministerial face in 2024, many within the Congress sat up to wonder why did he say so? This was corroborated by Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel. Now Kamal Nath is not a novice. He’s a veteran troubleshooter for the Congress, and was instrumental along with a few others in the formation of the UPA in 2004. And he is close to the Gandhis, especially the siblings. There was a reason behind his statement. Again, Bhupesh Baghel’s quick support of Kamal Nath too was not mindless. He is also close to the Gandhis, especially Priyanka.

Rahul as PM face?

Yes, it’s not the first time that Congress leaders have wanted Rahul Gandhi to be the PM face, but ever since he took charge as Congress president (later relinquishing the post). He made it clear that he did not want the post but took it up after the party demanded, and many close to Rahul mellowed down and would meekly respond to any question on whether he would be pitted opposite to Narendra Modi as a PM face.

But recently at meetings with poll strategist Prashant Kishor and with Sonia Gandhi finalising her exit, many top leaders of the party have been saying in one voice, “It’s time to bite the bullet, i.e., Rahul Gandhi should be the main face against the BJP in 2024.”

Some were wary, wondering if Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial pick would help the BJP. But the more BJP attacked him, the more Sonia Gandhi’s coterie was resolved to unleash the “only one who openly took on the PM”, to use the words of a senior leader at one of these meetings. With the BSP and TMC of late and southern parties like the YSR Congress blowing hot and cold on the BJP, the party feels that it’s only the Congress, with its relentless attacks on the BJP, that can provide an alternative to the saffron party even if it seems it’s down.

But like in advertising, in politics too repackaging is key. Like when Abhishek Banerjee needed to take charge of the Trinamool Congress as national general secretary, few noticed that a new version of him was presented. Slimmer, a fitness freak, and sporting rimmed glasses to emphasise the point that here was someone who meant business and was not just a “bhaipo” (nephew).

Similarly, Aaditya Thackeray was gently told to shed his jeans and t-shirt look, which made him seem like a college student out to have a nice time using his father’s name. Instead, we soon saw an Aaditya Thackeray in pastel shirts and trousers, out and about as a young neta who was on a mission.

And so began the re-invention of Rahul Gandhi. The beard and t-shirt look, random YouTube interviews, candid chatter with party colleagues, it’s all part of a plan. To make him a fierce, aggressive face against the PM in 2024.

Destination of the yatra

The Bharat Jodo Yatra, despite denials by the Congress, is very much political. In fact, Rahul Gandhi indicated as much when he said at a press conference in Delhi, “Let me finish with the yatra first, and then I will do a political assessment of it.”

There were two things that needed to be fixed before Rahul Gandhi could be presented as the face of the Congress. One was the “entitled” and “Pappu” tags he had. The yatra hopes to take care of this. Hence, the rigorous routine, getting up at 4am, walking with a limping leg, and all this being made public to counter the perception of a vacationing, happy-go-lucky neta.

The second is the complaint of all those who quit the party that he was inaccessible and was unaware of the karyakartas. The easy banter with his colleagues at the end of a day, carefully and strategically releasing candid conversations with leaders, like the one he had in Rajasthan with the warring Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot, were meant to address this grouse.

With these two done, and many more plans up its sleeves, the Congress hopes that by the time the yatra is over, Rahul Gandhi would be ready for the game of thrones.

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