A Rahul Gandhi mask held aloft during the session. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, Jan. 17: As crowning dramas go, it came close to approaching the Shakespearean. Thrice did the cry ripple for the coronet to descend on Rahul Gandhi’s head. Thrice was that cry motioned to silence. Twice by queen of the court, Sonia Gandhi, the last time by the preferred recipient of the crown himself.
The laurel he was not ducking — “I am a soldier of the party and I shall take any responsibility the party asks me to take” — but wait yet. Let it be time, let it be right, let the opportunity arrive. Here was the dynast as democrat, I’ll take the throne, but upon constitutional election. “That’s what we do,” Rahul proclaimed to an intended audience many million times the faithful gathered in the Talkatora cupola, “We are democrats, we believe in election, we believe in what our constitution prescribes.”
The cry for clan has long ceased to be a thing of orchestration in the Congress; it comes from default spontaneity. That cry did not stop to ripple — “Rahul! Rahul! Rahul!” Most resoundingly from a set of young men and ladies lined along the upper tier ringside. “Rahul! Rahul! Rahul!”
The decision not to name Rahul prime ministerial candidate has been taken and it is final, Sonia Gandhi said. “Rahul! Rahul! Rahul!”
I will come and explain this thing about the prime ministerial candidate a little later in the day, please be patient, please be silent, Rahul Gandhi intervened to say. “Rahul! Rahul! Rahul!”
The anointment of Rahul Gandhi had leapt out of the hesitations of Congress Working Committee resolutions and acquired a fullblown life of its own. And by the end of the day it had seduced no less a spokesperson than Salman Khurshid: “The sense of the house clearly is that there is a whole new India out there that is looking for change and Rahul Gandhi is the messiah of that change.”
About the first messianic change he achieved: having the government raise the LPG cylinder cap from nine to 12 within minutes of making that demand from the Talkatora lectern.
Something seemed to have changed and kicked between the change of Nehru jackets — fawn, pre-lunch, when he sat cross-legged on stage taking notes like the best boy in class and noir, post-lunch, when he came to reveal a cannon tongue and a flashing sword arm.
This wasn’t a Rahul many had seen, or even expected. No family-table sentimentality, no revelation of private mummy-lessons, no ahem! ambiguity on where he wanted to head: to power, of course. Or how: by articulating an inclusive growth narrative, of course. Corporate houses did find mention in his discourse, but once, and after a long priority list that included the underprivileged and marginalised, tribals and Dalits, the minorities and women.
“I wish to congratulate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for an unbroken decade of stability that has brought about massive socio-economic change,” he said.
“And I want to tell you that what we will do henceforth is to walk with everyone, empower everyone, we have done more than any government on transparency and empowerment, we promise more. You are our strength, that is what the Congress promises.”
But much of the rest was a pledge that awaits redemption: I want to empower you, the grassroots Congress man, I want half the Congressmen to be women, I want gram pradhans to become members of Parliament, I want India to be corruption-free, I want India to be rid of poverty, I want India to be run not by the power of one man but by the power of common Indians.
A lot of the rest was also what the billion jury will pronounce on sometime this coming May: the Congress is not a gimmick, unlike other parties, indeed not even a political party, the Congress is a movement with a glorious past, the Congress is a way of thinking. We are not divisive people intent on lighting fires, we combine the philosophies of the Gita and Mahabharat, Ashok and Akbar. We will fight those that seek to divide us. I will lead you into battle as a warrior with his head held high and I promise I will win, we will win, I tell you we will win. We will not retreat from this battle until we have won.
How Rahul Gandhi would hope the billion jury of May will be of a sentiment with the Talkatora platoon he charged into battle-mode today. How he’d hope he could bring the electorate down as he did his AICC delegates with fire and brimstone this winter’s day of misted chill.
Shakespeare, alas, did not script how the drama will unfold hereon.