Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has finally come of age as a politician. He addressed his maiden rally in Goa on Friday, kickstarting his party's campaign to dethrone the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from power in the poll-bound state. The scion of the Gandhi-Nehru family, serving his third term as member of Parliament, spoke for 33 minutes, that too extempore — surely a record of sorts! Coming of age as a politician, however, is totally different from becoming a leader; he is expected to gauge the mood of the crowd, know the place, the local issues and timing of what he says.
The only entertaining moment for the modest crowd that turned out of the Gandhi rally came when the organisers played the campaign CD that the Congress party vice-president had released moments ago. Music and Goa are inseparable. As the crowd starting dancing to the peppy tunes, Gandhi was forced to get up from the comfort of his chair and clap musically, till the number was played out.
Gandhi reached the Fatorda ground at Goa's commercial capital Madgaon a good 105 minutes behind schedule, and the organisers had done little to keep the crowd engaged or entertained. Gandhi waved at the crowd and took his seat on the dais, getting lukewarm response but happily listening to local Congress leaders showering praise on him and his family, not realising that sycophancy is the biggest hindrance in rebuilding the 131-year-old party.
The process to please Gandhi was initiated by Luizinho Falerio, the incumbent state unit president. He started his address in the local dialect Konkani, and conveniently switched over to English whenever he wanted Gandhi to clearly understand what he was saying, ignoring that a large majority among the crowd did not follow English. He heaped praise on the family — Indira Gandhi, her son Rajiv Gandhi, and the current president of the Congress party Sonia Gandhi before turning to her son Rahul Gandhi — attributing his visit to Goa to his love for the state.
Interestingly, this was Gandhi's first ever political engagement in Goa despite the fact that he has been the virtual number two in the party behind his mother since 2007 — first as the national general secretary, and then as vice president. "We have walked from North Goa to South Goa, but under your leadership the Congress party will run," Falerio ended his speech by referring to the 266-km long Jan Jagruti Padyatra of the party, the two-week long walkathon to awaken the Goan voters. Gandhi led the walk for its two-km concluding stretch on Friday.
The septuagenarian leader of Opposition in the outgoing state Legislative Assembly, Pratapsingh Rane, was not to be outdone. He gave Konkani a complete miss by switching to Hindi, which both Gandhi and the crowd could follow. "I had seen your great grandfather (Jawaharlal) Nehru as a kid, and now I am seeing you today. We look up to you as the next prime minister of India, and that day is not far," Rane said.
Both Falerio and Rane are in the race to be anointed Congress' chief ministerial candidate for Goa. While Falerio is two-time Goa chief minister, Rane has been CM four times. They had Digambar Kamat and Ravi S Naik, two other former chief ministers, for company on the dais.
Doused in praise, Rahul was encouraged to mention Sonia Gandhi, and he informed the crowd that his mother has always liked the unpolluted air of Goa and the warmth of its people, as he stood on the dais overlooking the gigantic multi-purpose stadium named after his great grandfather.
He used up the remainder of the 33 minutes to criticise the man who came between him and his prime ministerial aspirations in the 2014 general elections — the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During his speech, he said Modi was in cahoots with the super-rich and that demonetisation was an exercise to help them at the cost of the poor and the middle class.
Gandhi used the rally to probably say what he wanted to in the washed out Winter Session of Parliament. The earthquake he had been threatening of, never happened in Goa, and one was left doubting if he could ever bust the Modi balloon, another term he had used while campaigning in New Delhi, saying the BJP was not allowing him to speak in Parliament, as it would cause an earthquake and it would bust Modi's balloon.
The Congress vice-president was so focused on busting the symbolic balloon of Modi, whom he termed as a liar and feku, that he even imitated the way Modi laughs! One was left wondering if he was canvassing for the general elections or Goa polls. Never once did he talk about the BJP government in Goa that the crowd and party workers wanted to listen to. He blamed Modi for killing Goa's fishing industry and for wiping out the tourism industry, displaying his lack of local knowledge. Goa is witnessing one of the best tourism seasons in recent years, with hotels witnessing near full occupancy and hiking tariff by 100 percent for the Christmas-New Year week as well as for the entire January month in view of heavy bookings and return of the Russian-speaking tourists.
Only when a bored section of the crowd started leaving the venue, that Gandhi remembered that he was in Goa and had to seek votes for his party. But here again, he tripped badly. He termed land and casinos as two major issues, forgetting casinos were opened in Goa during the Congress party rule. In a way, he admitted that his party's leaders were also corrupt, as he ended his speech by promising instant and strict action anybody accused of corruption once his party forms the government in Goa.
"He shredded Modi to pieces, it was a nice speech. But I am somehow disappointed that he did not talk about the BJP government of Goa. I am not too sure what impact it will have on voters considering BJP is not seeking votes in Goa on Modi's name," a Congress party ground worker, who identified himself as Vincent, said.
Even the fence sitters among the voters who came for the rally appeared far from impressed. "I came to see and hear Rahul Gandhi. Negative campaigning and Modi bashing may not get the Congress any votes," said Madgaon-based businessman Hamsit said.
"We have lived under Portuguese dictatorship for 450 years. The last five years of BJP dictatorship is worse. I was expecting Rahul Gandhi to talk about how the BJP government has destroyed Goa's future, promise voters that the Congress party would nominate new and honest faces as its candidates. But it appears the same old leaders accused of corruption would again get preference," rued Mario D'Costa, who claimed to be a die-hard Congress party worker.
It was apparent that Rahul Gandhi has not learnt any lessons after leading the party to a historical defeat in the 2014 general elections, where his entire focus was on attacking Modi, but yielded poor results. The Congress vice-president, who could soon replace his mother Sonia as the national president of the party, may have given the wrong message to the local cadres of the party that blaming the Modi government for all ills facing the nation, especially Goa, could be their passport to power.
Updated Date: Dec 17, 2016 21:07:16 IST