New Delhi: It wasn’t a comforting sight for Congress heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi as the people congregated at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi began leaving the venue of his much-touted public meeting a bare six minutes after he started speaking.
Rather than face the ignominy of non-acceptance, Rahul abruptly ended his speech. The public address which was billed as his comeback speech and was expected to re-launch him onto the centrestage of Indian politics was characterized by a scathing attack on the Narendra Modi government for its ‘anti-farmer, anti-worker’ policies. A seasoned commentator and Editor of the Headlines Today TV channel said he asked some of those who were leaving soon after Rahul Gandhi’s speech began as to why they were walking away and was told that they had come to hear the speech of former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and once that was over they had no desire to continue in the sweltering heat.
Both Rahul and mother Sonia were at their combative best but made little impact on an audience that seemed far too bored by the one-sided rhetoric by the leaders of a party that had betrayed their trust when it was in the saddle for a full decade before it was booted out.
It wasn’t in any case a fairytale finale to an event that was being banked upon by a tired and lacklustre Congress party to be the beginning of their resurrection. The thrust of the speeches was the opposition to the Land Acquisition Bill which has become something of a prestige issue for both the Congress and the BJP. The scene will now shift to the Rajya Sabha where the BJP and its allies are in a minority. With Rahul’s poor record of speech-making, will he fare any better on the contentious Bill in the upper house than he did at the Ramlila Grounds? In the first half of the budget session of Parliament while Rahul was away on a mysterious sabbatical, Sonia Gandhi was able to unite the opposition against it. Will Rahul now fit the bill? Will the unity of the Opposition hold?
For Rahul, who Congress president Sonia Gandhi is desperate to foist as her successor this would indeed be an ordeal of fire. The stage has been set for him but will he deliver? Will the BJP make up the shortfall in numbers through behind-the-scene deals or deception or will it fail to muster strength to beat the Congress in an epic battle?