Since he became the Congress vice-president,Rahul Gandhi is demonstrating a visibly tougher streak and nowhere was it more evident than at a high-level meeting on May 26 in Raipur following the attack on a Congress cavalcade by Maoists. His visible anger and strong words went a long way towards putting Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singhs administration on the defensive.
In the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi,Rahul charged at Chief Secretary Sunil Kumar,asking who should be held accountable for the deaths of Congressmen. When Kumar tried to placate saying he accepted moral responsibility,Rahul shot back: Will it bring back those who have died?
Kumar then tried to invoke his long association with the Congress: saying he had worked with Arjun Singh and Ajit Jogi. He was even ready to resign,he said. The appeal failed to cut any ice with Rahul,who went on to give a piece of his mind for a good 10-15 minutes.
Those present agree that the incident speaks volumes about Rahuls new avatar. In coming days,he can be expected to espouse a tough line on issues as well as in dealings with partymen.
Those who know him say this has already become evident,in the unyielding stand he took against tainted leaders that forced Vokkaliga strongman D K Shiva Kumar out of the Karnataka Cabinet,and in quintessential networker Rajeev Shuklas unusual failure to breach the Rahul citadel (thanks to an indiscretion he committed a few years ago by putting privileged information about Rahul in the public domain).
Earlier this month,Rahul removed a group of junior ministers and MPs in Uttar Pradesh as regional heads after complaints that they hardly visited their areas. Local leaders replaced them.
More recently,Rahul gave a glimpse of his temperament when he told partymen at a Delhi unit meeting that he was not soft like his mother. Pointing to a portrait of Indira Gandhi,he said: I am like her. She is my role model.
Those who know Rahul say the message is clear. Only those perceived as professional in their approach,sincere in work and loyal to party code can expect to be in his good books. Within the hierarchy of political parties,a certain level of fear is a prerequisite,and Rahul,it appears,has begun crafting that aura around him.
Swaraj is a senior assistant editor based in Delhi