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On most days Congress members are satisfied with Rahul Gandhi showing up for the Parliament. On April 20, they were overjoyed. Not only did Rahul Gandhi deliver a fine speech but he attacked the government and the prime minister with gusto. It was a side of him most have not seen since the time he tore up an ordinance and threw it in front of the press. He was strong and aggressive, a sharp U-turn to his usual amiable self.
The pro-poor rhetoric isn't a revelation for Congress, even though the Manmohan-led government lost sight of it, despite the pro-liberalisation free-market economics.
Rahul Gandhi has always been consistent in his focus on the underprivileged. The dynast, who has had no experience of poverty, life in rural India or daily-wage life, has always been more comfortable fighting for the rights of the poor. In this he reflects the power of his grandmother, Indira Gandhi.
The Congress has realised that they can restart the debate of the haves and have-nots due to the current reputation of the Modi government being pro-corporate and anti-poor. Modi's monogrammed suit, the current land bill, and the PM's frequent jaunts to foreign lands have convinced the Congress it can revive itself if it continues to press this point. That Modi who may have come from the have-nots, has firmly positioned himself as the representative of the haves.
Rahul Gandhi's speech will remain memorable to him, the country and the media for his contribution of a memorable phrase to India's political lexicon - "suit boot ki sarkar".
The Congress and the Gandhis are well aware of the damage a catchy one liner can do. During the 2014 campaign, the BJP demolished Rahul's campaign with phrases before it even had a chance to peak through. For instance, Maa-bete ki sarkar, Shehzaade, Pappu , and many more made a huge impact on the minds of the voters.
The smirk of satisfaction on Rahul's face during his intervention in Parliament, shows that Congress has finally taken a step in the right direction. The speech was powerful because it presented facts.
"In our time, agricultural credit grew by 700%, it went up to Rs. 8 lakh crore and 6.5 crore farmers benefitted from this.... the current government has only given an increase of 5%".
It was powerful because it evoked emotion from Rahul, his party, and the opposition. N othing riled up the government quite like when Rahul Gandhi offered the PM some advice. Nothing amused his party more than when he referred to the BJP as a "suit boot ki party". It is easily visible from the grin on his MPs' faces, that they were pleased to see their leader in form.
A political win
In politics it is considered a win, if the opponent changes strategy due to the other's moves. If the rival takes up a defensive position, that is when you know you've pressed the right nerve. By that yardstick, Congress is going in the right direction.
A few hours before Congress' "Kisaan Rally" at Ramleela Maidan, PM Modi tried to rebrand himself and the party as the messiahs of the poor. He spent an hour trying to explain the measures his government had taken to address the concerns of the poor.
During his campaign, Modi pledged himself towards development, the middle class and corporates. However, his efforts to present himself as pro-poor prove that he has realised there is another section of the country that he has yet to court.
"This government is for big people, but 60% of the country comprises of farmers and labourers. It will benefit him [Modi] politically if he changes sides", said Rahul Gandhi.
"You are making a big mistake. You are hurting the farmers and labourers, and in the coming time they will hurt you back. Because the strength of this nation lies with the farmers and labourers. You're wrong if you're thinking that those who drive big cars and run big business are the strength of this country," said Rahul Gandhi.
In the end
There is no guarantee that Rahul Gandhi will succeed. Elections are four years away, and Modi has his personality and the might of his government to scare the Congress back to their nests. The land aquisition controversy has come a bit too early in the life of the Modi sarkar, but he has plenty of time to reboot his party's image and counter Gandhi's speech.
Rahul, on the other hand, has to remain consistent. This cannot be like one of his passing interests. His conviction must stay, if has any hope of changing his image.
Here is the full speech Rahul Gandhi delivered in Lok Sabha.