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Transformation of Rahul 'the Relucant' to Rahul the Ready

Rahul Gandhi in Bangalore on Thursday. (PTI)

New Delhi: Rahul Gandhi's critics within and outside the Congress have begun to acknowledge he has been working hard and has succeeded in demolishing the perception about being a reluctant politician.

After putting his nose to the grindstone last winter to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his fortress of Gujarat, Rahul has made nine trips to Karnataka in the past three months, spending 22 days in the poll-bound state.

Party veterans admit that no Congress chief has ever before demonstrated that kind of interest in an election.

Rahul, who has electioneered non-stop over the past four days, started his campaign on February 10 and has completed more than 100 engagements, including street-corner meetings, rallies, indoor interactions and receptions.

"He had six to eight public engagements in one day, apart from internal party meetings that extended to midnight," a party insider told The Telegraph.

He said Rahul had personally monitored the entire planning and execution of the campaign over the past three months.

"Now that he has taken the plunge, we have no more grudges," one of Rahul's worst critics in the Congress said.

"He is serious about politics. And we are happy that he has realised that politics is all about being among the people."

Senior politicians from other parties, including the BJP, concede that Rahul's commitment and energy have impressed them.

Some of them feel that Rahul has shown political maturity by not reacting to the Prime Minister's personal barbs while demonstrating the grit to ask tough questions.

Rahul has also handled complex questions about history, policies and the country's problems better than before.

His response to a question about his temple visits, posed at a Bangalore news conference on Thursday, has become a matter of much discussion in political circles.

Instead of confining the purpose of his temple visits to religiosity plain and simple, he portrayed them also as an expression of solidarity with the people of this deeply religious country.

"People express themselves in many ways. Religious belief is one way. As a leader, it is my duty to stand with them," he said.

Rahul said he was visiting temples as well as mosques, gurdwaras and churches, underlining he was standing with people from all religions.

But he also provided a glimpse of his personal faith when asked about the BJP's description of him as an "election Hindu".

"They don't understand what a Hindu is. This is a perspective, a viewpoint," he said. "This is in the heart; this is imbibed and lives with you throughout. They say 'election Hindu', I don't see my religion that way."

Overall, Rahul seemed to be subtly underscoring that he was neither using religion as a sectarian political tool nor pampering any minority.

"There is a difference between helping a community to empower themselves and crushing a community," he said.

Rahul's firm rejection of the argument that rapes should not be politicised too seemed to have impressed many.

Saying rapes were a "national issue", Rahul asked whether "politicians should not discuss it if there is a rape in India" and instead discuss "seaplanes and bullet trains", taking a dig at Modi.

The Congress president regretted that Modi had avoided fundamental issues such as the BJP's poll manifesto and vision for Karnataka and focused instead on irrelevant historical matters and personal attacks.

Rahul also demonstrated his ability to learn quickly from mistakes. His acknowledgment that he was ready to become the Prime Minister next year if the Congress won enough seats has triggered a controversy, allowing the BJP to accuse him of arrogance and a sense of entitlement.

At Thursday's news conference, Rahul refused to get sucked into the dispute despite intense grilling. He simply said: "This election is not about me. Issues are being raised for distraction."

Asked about the possible scenarios in the event of a hung Assembly, Rahul, like a seasoned campaigner, eschewed the potentially damaging trap of any ifs and buts and declared confidently that the Congress would win hands down.

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