RAHUL TAKES CHARGE

India Today - - LEISURE UPFRONT -

Ever since Rahul Gandhi, 47, fought his first elec­tion in 2004, his as­cent to Congress pres­i­dency was pre­or­dained. The Congress Work­ing Com­mit­tee has de­cided it’s time to bite the bul­let—in a few weeks. So Rahul re­mains on the verge, a faintly damn­ing phrase that sums up his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. By mid-De­cem­ber, he’ll take over a party that’s only just re­cov­ered from what seemed to be ter­mi­nal de­cline. Rahul’s also in the midst of a per­sonal re­nais­sance. Cam­paign­ing in Gu­jarat, he has been as­sured, caus­tic, taken the fight to the BJP. Can he re­vive the Congress?

2004: Just be­fore his 34th birth­day, Rahul con­tests the Lok Sabha elec­tion from fa­ther Ra­jiv’s old seat Ame­thi. Congress shocks rul­ing BJP 2007: Made gen­eral sec­re­tary in charge of the Youth Congress and Na­tional Stu­dents’ Union of In­dia. Prom­ises to re­form youth pol­i­tics—in­tro­duces YC elec­tions and drives mem­ber­ship to un­prece­dented lev­els 2008: In a speech about farmer sui­cides, Rahul tells Par­lia­ment about Kalavati, a widow in Ma­ha­rash­tra’s drought­rid­den Vi­darbha re­gion. The speech makes na­tional head­lines, as re­porters beat a path to Kalavati’s door 2009: Re­tains Ame­thi in gen­eral elec­tions. Stays the night in a Dalit

home, eat­ing, bathing and sleep­ing out in the open. Be­gins Bharat dar­shan, speak­ing at

125 ral­lies in six weeks

2011: Joins farm­ers in

Bhatta Parsaul vil­lage on May 11 protest­ing the forcible ac­qui­si­tion of their land at low rates by the state gov­ern­ment. Is ar­rested by UP po­lice. Later, the UPA gov­ern­ment passes the Land Ac­qui­si­tion, Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and Re­set­tle­ment Bill

2012: Congress wins just 28 seats in UP assem­bly polls. Af­ter the De­cem­ber 16 gang rape and mur­der of Jy­oti Singh, Rahul spon­sors the ed­u­ca­tion of her two broth­ers 2013: Is ap­pointed Congress vice pres­i­dent; power is poi­son, he says. De­scribes as “com­plete non­sense” his own party’s pro­posed or­di­nance giv­ing con­victed politi­cians re­prieves from dis­qual­i­fica­

tion. In De­cem­ber, Congress fin­ishes 3rd in Delhi be­hind the BJP and AAP. Rahul says he’ll trans­form Congress,“in ways you can­not imag­ine.”

2014: In an ab­ject gen­eral elec­tion de­feat,

Congress is re­duced to just 44 seats. Par­ty­men call for sis­ter Priyanka to lead.

2015: Dis­ap­pears for two months for Vi­pas­sana. Rein­vig­o­rated, in April he coins the phrase ‘suit­boot ki sarkar’ for the Modi gov­ern­ment, forc­ing it to turn tail on amend­ments to the 2011 Land Ac­qui­si­tion Bill. In Novem­ber, brings Lalu Prasad and Ni­tish Ku­mar to­gether to win Bi­har elec­tions.

2015-17: His lead­er­ship of the Congress is in dan­ger of be­com­ing a na­tional joke, as the Congress loses elec­tions in Ma­ha­rash­tra, Haryana, Jammu and Kash­mir, Ut­tarak­hand, As­sam and Ker­ala. In UP, the al­liance with Akhilesh Ya­dav is an ap­par­ent dis­as­ter. In Ma­nipur and Goa, the Congress is the largest party but fails to form gov­ern­ment. Only in Pun­jab is vic­tory se­cured and credit goes to Amarinder Singh.

2017: Ef­fec­tive speeches on US univer­sity cam­puses give Rahul con­fi­dence. A Congress so­cial me­dia cam­paign in Gu­jarat mock­ing the BJP’s prom­ise of de­vel­op­ment—“vikas gando thayo chhe”—goes vi­ral, en­cour­ag­ing Rahul to em­brace Twit­ter and sharpen his pitch. Calls GST “Gab­bar Singh Tax”; clev­erly mocks Amit Shah’s son, Jay, al­leged to have prof­ited from his con­nec­tions, as “Shah­jyada”, a ref­er­ence both to Jay’s greed and the ‘She­hzada’ nick­name Shah and Naren­dra Modi use to de­ride him.

VIKRAM SHARMA

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