As a political reporter who has covered Rahul Gandhi for the past decade and more, I have often written about Rahul Gandhi's awkwardness, his unwillingness to speak and his visible discomfort when he does so. So when the Congress President got up to speak during the no confidence vote, we braced ourselves for the usual performance - earnest words peppered with strange metaphors, delivered with awkward pauses. And then something else happened.
The 47-year-old delivered an hour-and-20-minute-long speech which touched the right chords from the word go. There was no need for a warm-up, there was no slow build, he went in and started hitting goals immediately. Even if they were uttered in some slightly dodgy Hindi. "Pradhan Mantri jab bahar mein jaate hain'' elicited guffaws in the treasury benches and online. Some thought he was suggesting the PM went to a "bar" instead of abroad. It looked like the joke was completely on him and even the PM couldn't stop LOL-ing in his seat.
But then, it turned. Rahul Gandhi's signature move of pulling up his kurta sleeves finally made sense; he looked like he had some speaking skills up his sleeve after all. As soon as he raised the Rafale pricing deal and talked about the government lying, it looked like he actually was doing some damage to the government because the smiles were replaced by shouts and protests. As Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman objected, the government's protests forced an adjournment.
It wasn't that Rahul Gandhi said anything truly original.
The "Jumla strikes", the key theme of his speech, isn't really a brand new notion or striking catchphrase. The phrases in his speech were more like "Sacchai se mat daro (don't fear the truth)" or "Chowkidaar nahi Bhaagidaar hai (not a guard but recipient)". But these could have been written by any clever speech-writer. No, the credit goes to Rahul Gandhi because for the first time, he looked like he was enjoying it, to everyone's surprise.
For the first time, he looked comfortable in his skin as a politician. They kept booing him, they kept criticising him, and shouting him down, but the "reluctant" politician was on a roll.
He made some ill-advised references too.
The one about Surat and the impact of GST (Goods and Services Tax) was suicidal because that's where the Congress drew a complete blank in Gujarat. The reference to "I am Hindu'' was also strange. But who remembers all that because he ended his performance by hugging his enemy. "You may call me Pappu, but I don't hate you.''
Of course, the Prime Minister's oratorical prowess is more formidable than Rahul's.
The thing is, when Rahul asked the PM to look into his eyes and respond to his questions, he may have been speaking for the common man. The farmer protesting outside, the woman seeking safety, the lynched man's family seeking justice - they all wanted to ask the Prime Minister some questions and finally, someone was asking it for them.
(Sunetra Choudhury is Political Editor, NDTV.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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