Rahul Gandhi does not move with photographers, the latter follow him!

Long before Amit Shah started getting himself photographed while eating in houses of Dalits, Rahul Gandhi had been staying overnight in Dalit hamlets, without any camera crew following him

Rahul Gandhi does not move with photographers, the latter follow him!

Rahi Bhide

When Rajiv Gandhi visited Maharashtra while campaigning for the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, the then 20-year-old Rahul Gandhi was with him. Rajiv Gandhi reached the venue of the election rally at Pune earlier than scheduled. I arrived on his heels but since Rajiv Gandhi had already arrived, police barred me from entering the press box.

I was not to be stalled. Soon our raised voices carried to the stage. Rahul Gandhi hurriedly got up and approached us. I complained that the police are not letting me in. He turned round and admonished the cops, “Aane do unko, kyo chilla rahe ho!” Once I was in and Rahul Gandhi was back on the stage, he turned round and raised his hand to ask if everything was fine. Someone else would have sent across a party worker to sort out the issue.

My second meeting with him was once again in Pune where I was editing a Marathi newspaper in 2017. Rahul Gandhi had come down to attend an activists’ camp, and he chose to meet local editors for an off-the-record interactive session. We had a very illuminating talk which busted many of the media myths about him. But alas, it was all off the record. While leaving he told me with a smile, “Rahi ji, hope to see you again - for the third time!” because I had failed to resist the temptation of telling him of our first meeting. That third meeting however, is yet to take place.

But the memories of that second meeting five years ago are still fresh in mind. His lucidity, erudition, his openness to any kind of questioning, his knowledge of things and perspectives on situations had escaped most of us--in retrospect, I reflected that it was fortunate the meeting was off the record or else the editors and their questions would have shown up poorly in comparison.

He has been seen discussing with experts about the country’s economy, society, communal politics and the pandemic among other issues. He has presented his views and answered questions on international for a, spelt out his views on Rafael purchase as well as the Chinese incursion in eastern Ladakh.

With even a section of his own partymen, it seems almost fashionable to diss his opinions. But his relentless campaign to defend constitutional values, his insistence on drawing the ruling party to fundamental issues in the interest of the country show his unwavering faith in democracy. He does not just protest for the sake of protesting. Nor does he only criticise the government but he has also suggested remedial measures to the government. Every time Union Ministers were let loose to mock him only for the government to accept his suggestions a few months down the line.

Rahul Gandhi does not move with photographers, the latter follow him!

Like his father Rajiv Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi clearly is a reluctant politician. But the moment he was declared the Congress candidate for the Amethi constituency, BJP announced VHP’s Ram Vilas Vedanti as its candidate against him. And BJP’s campaign was ostensibly centred around keeping Amethi away from the ‘Italian’. Even when he was in school and the erstwhile Jan Sangh was targeting his grandmother and uncle, the punch line was, “desh ki neta Indira Gandhi, Yuvaon ke neta Sanjay Gandhi and bacchon ke neta Rahul Gandhi”.

Security reasons kept him and his sister away from school after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Parents and children are now used to online teaching, thanks to the pandemic, but Rahul Gandhi had to opt for home schooling when online education was a distant dream. His admission into St Stephen’s College on a sports quota was contested by the ABVP and he decided to go abroad to complete his higher education.

After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, while Rahul was studying at Harvard University, he was shifted to Rollins College and his name was changed to Raul Vinci. Only the chief executive of the university and the security staff knew his identity.

The possibility that in 1996 Rahul Gandhi could contest the election to the Lok Sabha after completing 25 years of age led to a fresh flurry of character assassination. It was alleged that he had changed his religion. His identity as Raul Vinci was cited as evidence. It was alleged that he was a drug addict and went abroad for de-addiction.

Neither Rahul Gandhi nor Congress bothered to dignify such allegations with any response. They ignored them. Should a defamation case or two have helped their cause? One cannot say. But what one can say for sure is that had he been ambitious, he could have become a Union minister or even the prime minister in 2004. But he genuinely seems to believe that although power is an important tool for social change, it is not the only tool.

Long before Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath began eating in the houses of Dalits, Rahul Gandhi spent the night with Dalits, ate and slept there in one of the huts on a khatia. Despite the security risks and despite terror attacks having taken the lives of his grandmother and father, he kept meeting workers, farmers and migrants, rode pillion on motorcycles and travelled by local trains to understand problems of the people better.

‘Mai Nahi, Hum’ (We, not I) was his refreshing slogan in 2014. His attempts to democratise the Youth Congress and the NSUI and hold elections are often overlooked. His attempts to choose candidates for legislatures from Congress workers is glossed over.

He often has been the lone Congressman standing against the RSS and the BJP even as the Sangh Parivar and the media fired on all cylinders to malign Nehru and the so-called dynasty. BJP’s IT Cell and its WhatsApp University (recall Amit Shah’s boast to party workers that the party could make even lies viral) worked overtime to project Rahul Gandhi as a simpleton, a person unfit for leadership roles and as a dynast, describing him as Shahzada, Yuvraj, Namdar and Rahul Baba, both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah tried to destroy him politically.

To their frustration, Rahul Gandhi never stooped to their level. He addressed Narendra Modi as ‘Modi Ji’ while bluntly saying that the Prime Minister was a liar and a coward. He rarely lost his cool and was gracious after losing elections, even stoical. But he has been consistent, dignified and steadfast in his opposition to fascist tendencies and in his support to Nehru’s Idea of India.

Many happy returns of the day, Rahul Ji; looking forward to talking to you for the third time.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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