C N Jayadevan, a first-time CPI MP from Kerala, was in for a pleasant surprise the other day in the Lok Sabha. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi walked up to him and struck up a conversation, talking to him for several minutes. The friendly chat ranged from the book of a Communist veteran Rahul had read recently to the more serious issue of the Congress’s rout in the recent elections.
That was just one of the many stops Rahul made during the short Lok Sabha session that just ended. Veterans who had got used to the aloof Rahul keeping largely to himself in Parliament all these years saw him reach out to MPs from several other parties, among them the CPM’s M B Rajesh, the Trinamool Congress’s Saugata Ray and Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, and the NCP’s Supriya Sule. Rahul also surprised many by turning up at the BJP headquarters to pay his last respects to Gopinath Munde.
He was seen in the Central Hall of Parliament as well many times during the session.
Rahul talked to Jayadevan about the book by Mohit Sen, the late Communist intellectual and ideologue. It is unclear though what the CPI MP thought of this considering Sen had left the CPI after it jettisoned the Dange line of collaboration with the Congress after the Emergency.
Rahul also wanted to know about the “liquor problem” in Kerala — apparently the controversy over the annual renewal of bar licences — about Jayadevan and his party’s views on the Congress’s defeat, the differences between the CPM and CPI, and even why and how did Jayadevan become a Communist.
The election outcome has been a common thread in the discussions Rahul has been having with the MPs of other parties. To the CPM and CPI, he talked about the Congress’s defeat as well as the losses suffered by their parties, while with the Trinamool, he discussed the BJP’s rise in West Bengal and elsewhere.
The CPM’s Rajesh said the conversation was largely academic and ideological. “He wanted to know about the Left in Kerala and the influence of caste and religion in politics,” he said. “He was asking a lot of questions and was friendly in nature,” another MP said.
One of the MPs who had a lengthy talk with Rahul admitted “the change” was unmissable. “Earlier he never used to even look at us. He is now discussing politics and all. It is good in a way. Nothing wrong in that. It is perhaps because his party lost badly,” said the MP.
While Rahul appears to be searching for answers for the Congress’s rout, his interest within Parliament will also delight his party for other reasons. His patchy attendance record in the Lok Sabha all through his past two terms as well as poor participation in House debates have been much talked about. The days Rahul was present in the House he would mostly confine himself to the backbenches, talking to contemporaries such as Milind Deora, Sachin Pilot, Sandeep Dikshit and Deepender Hooda.
According to party sources, Rahul has become more accessible to own partymen as well, meeting them for feedback on the elections and for suggestions for Congress’s revival.