Rahul Gandhi's never-ending baptism by fire prepared him to ignore barbs from PM and HM

Since 2014 Rahul Gandhi has been attacked by the PM and the Home Minister among others. Amit Shah drops all decorum and calls him ‘Rahul Baba'. But he remains unruffled and refuses to reply in kind

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi before heading to ED office on Monday
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi before heading to ED office on Monday

Arun Sharma

Rahul Gandhi grew up under the shadow of violence. While BJP leaders speak a lot about terrorism, they fail to acknowledge the price that the Nehru-Gandhi family has paid to terrorism. Rahul’s grandmother, Indira Gandhi, fell to the bullets of assassins, who were also her bodyguards. What people seem to have forgotten is that she had spurned suggestions to change her bodyguards on grounds of their religion. Rahul had turned just 14.

It was a tender age to have lost his grandmother, who found time to tell him stories despite being the prime minister of the country. The loss that Rahul Gandhi would have felt can be seen in a photograph in which Rajiv Gandhi is seen holding a distraught and tearful Rahul in his arms at the funeral.

Four years earlier, he had lost his uncle, Sanjay Gandhi, in a plane crash in 1980. While Sanjay Gandhi, who was flying the plane, was blamed, sabotage was never quite ruled out.

And barely seven years after losing his grandmother, on 21st May 1991, he lost his father, also a former prime minister, who was killed by LTTE terrorists at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu. For several years the family withdrew from the limelight and into a shell till Sonia Gandhi was persuaded to come out and hold the reins of the Congress in 1998.

Home schooled before he went abroad, living there with an assumed identity with full knowledge of the government and living under the shadow of security back in India, his growing up years could hardly have been normal.

While Rahul Gandhi has been philosophical, even stoical in the face of physical violence and sustained vilification, attacks on him by the BJP/RSS intensified after 2004. Relentless attempts have been made to show him as a political novice, an immature person with a short attention span and as one who owed his place in the party because of his family lineage.

The year 2014 was a watershed year because the year marked the beginning of attacks on him by none other than the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of the country. Indeed, all union ministers and BJP leaders have mocked and hounded him over the last eight years with their intemperate and often cheap and vulgar comments.

While Narendra Modi is known to have called Sonia Gandhi a jersey cow and Rajiv Gandhi as ‘corrupt’ and Rahul Gandhi as the Shahzada or the crown prince, Amit Shah mockingly calls him ‘Rahul Baba’. Even someone holding the office of the VicePresident, Venkaiah Naidu, called him ‘Pappu’ in Parliament.

It is undeniably a poor reflection on these leaders who in an effort to insult an Opposition leader, undermined the dignity of civilised discourse and the sanctity of Parliament.

It is also a reflection on ‘new’ India, where such abuses go unnoticed and are taken in stride by the media, people and political parties. The hypocrisy of using ‘parliamentary language’ within the House and speaking the language of the street elsewhere does not speak very highly of our democracy.

An ordinary mortal would have wilted in the face of such abusive and sustained onslaught. A lesser mortal would have lost his cool and succumbed to the temptation of replying in kind.

But Rahul Gandhi has passed through his baptism by fire, neither losing his cool nor his dignity or clarity of thought. He alone among all opposition leaders has been consistent in flagging concerns on communalism, hatred, the economy and unemployment.

He conceptualised the Minimum Basic Income to the poorest in the Congress manifesto in 2019. He warned about the pandemic long before the Government woke up to the threat.

Just one interview with Karan Thapar made Narendra Modi lose his bearings so much that he wanted to go out to have a glass of water when a glass of water was sitting right in front of him. It put him off press conferences and independent journalists.

But while Rahul Gandhi routinely faces inconvenient, even rude and hostile questions and replies to them, the BJP strongman dare not field hostile questions either here or abroad. So, who is the real ‘Pappu’ is the question.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)