The trip, timed after parliament wraps on the 5th (Friday), is part of the newly-minted initiative by Gandhi's strategist Sam Pitroda, who conceived his successful Berkeley trip in September which showcased a more confident and assertive Gandhi talking to students ahead of his big Gujarat campaign. The Berkeley event is credited with helping alter the perception of Gandhi as a temperamental politician prone to foreign holidays in between unimpressive appearances at parliament.
Sources say that the Berkeley visit established a prototype that Pitroda will use for a foreign outreach by Gandhi every four months and will see the Congress president interacting with foreign leaders and students.
In the United Arab Emirates, Gandhi will address townhall meetings and interact with global CEOs, said sources. He will talk to local businesses who employ Indians as well.
Gandhi, 48, will be accompanied by Pitroda and younger Congress leaders such as Milind Deora and Jitendra Singh.
Gandhi seems to be taking a leaf out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's book who as Gujarat Chief Minister and then in the first two years of his premiership made a concerted effort to court NRIs including with his famous Madison Square Garden event.
This new avatar of Gandhi as a 24/7, engaged politician who for the first time in years did not leave India for an extended new year will help build his credibility in public, Pitroda believes, while the fact that Gandhi campaigned in Gujarat for the long haul and did not vanish after the results has helped reassure jittery Congress leaders.
"The real change is that he did not go abroad for New Year. When I saw Mrs Gandhi taking a holiday in Goa (she was seen riding a cycle in a photo that went viral), I really felt that a change had happened. Earlier it was the other way around," shared a relieved senior Congressman.
The fact that the Congress was able to contain the BJP to 99 seats in Gujarat showed that Gandhi has grown as a politician, an evolution also acknowledged by the BJP's relentless attacks on him.
Ensuring Karnataka is not lost is also on the top of Team RG's new agenda. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is likely to get a completely free hand as requested by him.
All this has reportedly been facilitated by his mother's retirement. Gandhi's decisions are no longer second-guessed as they once were, nor is the old guard constantly clashing with his aides.
The changes may seem impressive only to the Congress. The party is reduced to holding only four states now. But it believes that with Gandhi now in party mode, it stands a chance at giving the BJP a run as the largest opposition party.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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