Congress president Rahul Gandhi sharpens his claws as he targets BJP by invoking the Mahabharata

Addressing the 84th plenary session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) on Sunday, Congress president Rahul Gandhi launched a scathing attack both on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) political philosophy, touching upon subjects of jobs, education and agriculture.

With focus clearly on the upcoming 2019 General Elections, the newly-elected party chief also promised to revamp the 133-year-old organisation, as he asserted the importance and value of Congress' "ideology". Beyond the political rhetoric and sloganeering, however, there are several reasons why Rahul's speech in the party's conclave assumes significance, both for his prospects and for political equations this time next year.

Rahul Gandhi during the second day of the 84th Plenary Session Congress on Sunday. PTI

Rahul Gandhi during the second day of the 84th Plenary Session Congress on Sunday. PTI

Naming the enemy

A significant part of the hour-long address was dedicated to comparing how the BJP government has dealt with various issues, as opposed to precedents set by the Congress in the past. Rahul also trained his guns on Modi, questioning the prime minister's silence on some issues and long speeches on others.

"When it’s important for the prime minister to speak, he goes silent. We in the Congress are servants of the people. There is no employment, farmers are dying and the prime minister asks us do yoga in front of the India Gate," he said, taking a jibe at Modi's attempts at promoting yoga.

Adding that Modi thinks he is an incarnation of God, Rahul chose to highlight recent scams in the country using the prime minister's last name. "Nirav Modi shares the same name as our prime minister. He is the biggest fraud in India. Also, Lalit Modi, the most corrupt person of Indian cricket also shares the same name as our prime minister. All the biggest corrupt people of our country share the same name with Modi," he said.

The Congress president touched upon the Rafale controversy as well, alleging that the prime minister was personally involved in the deal. "We paid Rs 570 crores per plane and Modi paid Rs 1,670 crores for the same plane. He paid Rs 1,100 crore more per plane. Forget fighter planes, you can’t trust such a man to buy vegetables," he said.

Referring to BJP president Amit Shah, he said people will accept a "man accused of murder" as chief of the BJP, but they will never accept the same in the Congress as they "hold Congress in the highest regard". As for the BJP’s ideological mentor, Rahul said in a rather dramatic fashion that while BJP is the voice of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Congress is the voice of the nation.

Rahul Gandhi speaking at the 84th Congress plenary summit. PTI

Rahul Gandhi speaking at the 84th Congress plenary summit. PTI

The theme that Rahul was returning to, however, was to do with the BJP's "ideology of hate". The country is being divided and people are made to fight each other, he said, adding that the Congress works to bring people together, and not divide them on the basis of caste, religion or region. "The difference between our party and the ruling party is that they follow the ideology of hatred while we follow the ideology of love, fraternity and brotherhood."

Invoking Hindu mythology

At a time when religion is seen to be shaping political rhetoric across the country and pundits expect issues such as the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute to define campaigns in 2019, Rahul invoked the epic Mahabharata in his address to thousands of Congress workers on Sunday. Comparing the present political milieu to plots in the Mahabharata, he said the BJP resemble the Kauravas, who were only hungry for power, while his party, like the Pandavas, stood for truth.

"The Kauravas were powerful and arrogant. The Pandavas were humble and fought for the truth. Like the Kauravas, the BJP and RSS are designed to fight for power. Like the Pandavas, Congress is designed to fight for truth," he said. "Will India live a lie or will India have the courage to face the truth? Today, the corrupt and powerful control the conversation in the country."

The BJP was quick to respond to these comments, saying the Congress "mocked Hindus and Hinduism". Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, "The party which questioned the fundamental existence of Shri Ram today wants to identify itself with Pandavas," in an apparent reference to the Congress' stand on Ayodhya dispute.

"I have never heard of a ‘Congress priest' and a ‘BJP priest', but Rahul Gandhi has narrated a whole story on that, just as a way to mock Hindus and Hinduism," the minister said.

Coming of age?

Conceding that Congress failed to meet expectations of its supporters during the last few years of the UPA, the Congress chief said he will personally take care of the organisation's restructuring process.

"The last government we formed did not stand up to the expectations of the people. The people of the country were let down by us," Rahul said. He added that India expects more from the Congress because it holds the party to a higher standard than others.

Rahul Gandhi speaks at the conclave. PTI

Rahul Gandhi speaks at the conclave. PTI

He said while Congress accepts its mistakes, the BJP never concedes, either with the implementation of demonetisation or the Goods and Services Tax. "We are human beings, we can make mistakes. They (the BJP) think they are not human beings, but something else," he said.

Amid loud cheers, Rahul took it upon himself to break the "walls" that separate the party's leaders from the rank and file, adding that he would open the party platforms for talented youth. Assuring that the veteran leaders would not suddenly be brushed aside in the process, he said, "I admit there’s a wall between the Congress leadership and party workers. My first priority is to break this barrier but with respect," Rahul said, pointing to the last rows in the filled stadium.

Hours before the plenary session on Saturday, the Congress president changed his Twitter username for the first time since joining the micro-blogging website in 2015. From @OfficeOfRG, he changed the handle to his full name, @RahulGandhi, appearing to take control of his words. "I look forward to your feedback and comments, and to continuing my dialogue with you via Twitter and other platforms," he said, while announcing the change.

Over the past year, he has used this social media platform to take both personal and political jibes at the prime minister and his party. But his non-political tweets tjat are perhaps attempted at building a more personal relationship with his supporters, have also attracted as much attention. "People (have) been asking who tweets for this guy... I'm coming clean..it's me..Pidi..I'm way smarter than him. Look what I can do with a tweet..oops..treat!," a tweet from Rahul had said, inviting both applause and criticism.

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Updated Date: Mar 19, 2018 10:09:22 IST

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