Rahul Gandhi clears first test by suspending Mani Shankar Aiyar
The pace and the manner in which the party president-to-be handled the controversy marks a shift in Congress politics.
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In the morning hours of December 7, now-suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar made an offensive remark about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Within hours, Congress president-to-be Rahul Gandhi, through a tweet, asked Aiyar to apologise and distanced the party from the comment, saying that it was against the culture of the Congress. A couple of hours later, Aiyar was suspended from primary membership of the party.
BJP and PM routinely use filthy language to attack the Congress party. The Congress has a different culture and heritage. I do not appreciate the tone and language used by Mr Mani Shankar Aiyer to address the PM. Both the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said.— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) December 7, 2017
For years, Rahul Gandhi has faced one consistent criticism - he is inconsistent and slow in decision-making. In the context of that criticism, the pace and the manner in which Rahul Gandhi handled the Aiyar controversy was a significant shift in Congress politics. One must remember that Aiyar was a close aide of Rahul’s father Rajiv, and loyalists have special place in the Congress.
Of course, critics can point towards the political pragmatism behind the decision - not taking any action could have multiplied the damage the party is likely to suffer because of the comment made just before the Gujarat Assembly elections. Modi already has appealed to the Gujarati pride, asking the people of Gujarat to take revenge on the day of ballot.
Image: Reuters photo
But political pragmatism is not something Rahul Gandhi has been associated with in the past. The development around Aiyar rather indicates the emergence of a new Congress, led from the front by Rahul Gandhi. This Congress will have no place for shadow boxing; it will play the in-your-face game.
The beginning of this change started with Rahul’s speech at UC Berkeley when he challenged the audience to evaluate him based on what he said, and as he was standing in front of him. He has realised that, for long, others - his partymen and opponents - have spoken on behalf him. It’s time to take control of the discourse.
The next step was being himself on Twitter. In private, he is a witty person who has sarcastic sense of humour. His latest tweets just reflect that. He knows his biggest rival Narendra Modi is a master of oratory and that’s how he can easily convey his messages to the masses. Rahul has understood that matching Modi is a tall task. So, he searched for a language that could connect him with the new-media masses. Humour and sarcasm came as the best tool.
He has mentioned on several occasions in the past that arrogance of the Congress led to its downfall in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Gradually, he has been trying to rid the party of that tag - if there is a mistake, he is quickly accepting it in public, like he did two days ago. There is no attempt to cover it up. The strategy is simple - call a spade a spade because Indian voters can no more be swayed by rhetoric. They are far more informed, thanks to the digital revolution.
Since he joined politics in 2004, there has been a common refrain about him - he is not meant for politics, he is too straight or opinionated for the politics of India. Perhaps, because he did not understand Indian politics too well, or he was too indifferent, the Gandhi scion stayed away from public speaking. But this new Rahul Gandhi is trying to turn what was seen as his weakness into his biggest strength. He will speak the truth as it is, without any political twist.
That’s perhaps a better ploy. He doesn’t have much to lose - the Congress has already hit rock bottom with 44 seats. Keeping aside political ego and doing the right thing could only take the party forward.