Rahul Gandhi will travel next week to the Middle East on his first foreign trip after becoming Congress president.
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.
Rahul Gandhi addressing students of the prestigious University of California, Berkeley (September, 2017)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also expected to travel to the UAE and Palestine early this year though the dates have not been announced yet.
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
Prime Minister Narendra Modi got a full-house reception at New York's Madison Square Garden (September, 2014)
Pitroda is playing the same role for Gandhi as Ram Madhav does for Modi in terms of arranging the trips and conceiving the best way to showcase his leader.
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.
Sonia Gandhi seen riding a bicycle in an image tweeted from Goa
Pitroda is among the clutch of new advisors Gandhi acquired just before he became president last month. The new team reportedly helped keep him on script in Gujarat, focusing on the issues if unemployment, GST, demonetization and agrarian distress.
In the past, his mother often intervened to soothe allies who he could not manage. But in Gujarat, Gandhi handed his three new acquisitions - the trio of Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor - largely with poise. His decision to suspend veteran Mani Shankar Aiyar for his "neech"
remark about Modi demonstrated he will not defer tough decisions.
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.
Rahul Gandhi at a road show during the Gujarat election campaign
Post the Middle East trip, a party reshuffle is on the cards as internal analysts prepare for the upcoming elections in states including Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. A micro constituency-wise analysis is being done by professionals.
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.)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.