By Harihar Swarup
In May 2005, a Griha Puja — a family only affair — was organized at 12, Tughlak Lane. Soon after Rahul Gandhi moved into the house in Lutyens Delhi allotted to him months earlier as a newly member of the Lok Sabha. It was a time when Rahul, winning from the family stronghold of Amethi, was setting foot in the complicated world of politics. The very act of moving out of 10, Janpath—Sonia Gandhi’s official residence—was symbolic of the big shift in his life.
Since then, it has been a roller coaster ride for the former Congress president. Rahul will soon have to vacate 12 Tughlak Lane following his conviction in a criminal defamation case by a court in Surat and subsequently disqualification as a Lok Sabha member. In the beginning he was seen as diffident and misfit in politics, even as his party was, in phases, bringing him on the centre stage and his political rivals were sizing him up. Almost two decades later, he is at the centre of a political storm, his opponents at their shrillest in denouncing him as failed politician while his party is hoping the spotlight on him will end up benefitting him.
Rahul has perhaps never been at the centre of news and discussions the way he is at present. Over the last few months, the developments related to him have taken place at a faster pace.. When he walked into parliament at the beginning of the budget session in early February, he still sported his overgrown beard from Bharat Jodo Yatra, his swagger, reflecting the confidence of a mission well accomplished. The yatra was seen as having helped in great measure to repair his image.
Then came his speech in the Lok Sabha on Adani issue in the back drop of the Hindenburg Research report. Rahul’s controlled aggression as he asked uneasy questions about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged proximity to businessman Gautam Adani had the treasury benches up in arms. A line-up of Union ministers countered him in Parliament and outside. There was a qualitative change in BJP’s attacks on him this time, with the ‘Papu’ jibes a thing of the past. Rahul’s ‘democracy in peril’ comment made in the UK resulted in the second half of the budget session getting washed out, owing to unprecedented scenes of treasury benches disrupting the proceeding. The ruling side stuck to its demand of an apology from Rahul to Parliament. He was called a traitor and even dubbed a modern-day Mir jafar. Shortly afterwards, the Delhi police visited Rahul Gandhi’s residence, seeking details about a speech he made during the Yatra in which he had spoken about women confiding him about crimes perpetrated on him.
The furore over Rahul has reached its crescendo with his conviction and disqualification as an MP. It has set off a bitter confrontation between government and opposition, and could set the tone for the coming round of Assembly elections and the Lok Sabha polls. It is another matter that had the ordinance on disqualification of MPs that he strongly opposed in 2013 become law, his disqualification would not have been immediate (the Manmohan Singh government had wanted to bring another ordinance that would have allowed convicted MPs and MLAs to retain their seats for three months).
Rahul, who in his twitter bio now refers to himself as a Dis‘Qualified MP, has described the recent events as the “best gift” the BJP could have given him. Implied in the statement is the optimism that the developments will provide his party an opportunity to take on Modi government with vigour.
“The more they attack Rahul Gandhi, the stronger he will get”, said Congress’s chief whip in Lok Sabha Manicam Tagore. “They have unleashed all their power to try and silence him, and he has frustrated their efforts. The entire party will rally around our leader. You cannot stop us from going to the people”. If his conviction is not stayed by a higher court or his conviction not reduced to less than two years, Rahul faces the scenario of not being able to contest the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. As of now, he will be barred from contesting election for eight years including two years of sentence if his appeal for the staying of the conviction is not granted. (IPA Service)