Taking over the reins from his mother Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi Saturday sought to paint the political narrative of the BJP as a vehicle of hate and present the Congress party’s journey as a caravan of love. His party, the new Congress president said, had brought India into the 21st century, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi was taking it back to a “medieval past”.
As party workers set off a seemingly unending burst of celebratory firecrackers outside the Congress’s 24 Akbar Road headquarters, Rahul drew a comparison with what he said was the BJP’s inflammatory politics.
“You have an example before you. Ek baar aag lag jaati hai, to usey bujhana bahut mushkil hota hai,” he said. “This is what we are trying to make the BJP people understand. Ek baar aapne desh main aag lagaa di, to usko bujhana bahut mushkil hota hai. Today, the BJP is trying to spread fire and violence across the country, and there is only one force that can stop it — the workers of the Congress and its leaders.
“They divide, we unite. They ignite fires, we douse them. They show anger, we show love. That is the difference between us and them,” Rahul said.
He referred to himself as an “idealist”, and accused the Prime Minister of running after “personal glory” and said the BJP was “soldiers fighting for the self”. The “regressive forces” represented by the BJP “don’t win because they are right” or “because they stand on the side of what is correct”, Rahul said, “they win because they are powerful”. This power, he said, “is manipulative and distortive and it stains everything it touches”.
However, “they can only defeat us only if we back down”, Rahul told party workers, and exhorted them to “stand up” to the BJP — for “their anger and hatred makes all of you and us stronger”.
For sections of the leadership and cadre unsure about the fallout of his taking the top job in the party, Rahul had a message: “I want to assure Congress workers and leaders. You are my family. And you all, young and old, are mine. I will love you from my heart.” Outlining his inclusivist vision for the party, he said, “I want the Congress to become an instrument for dialogue among the Indian people — all of us, from all corners of our great country, all religions, all ethnicities, all ages, genders and people — and for our dialogue to always be led by love and affection.”
Rahul Gandhi takes over at a time of unprecedented crisis for the party that completes 132 years of existence on December 28 this year. Its 44 seats in Lok Sabha is its lowest tally ever, unimaginable for most Congress workers in 1998, when Sonia took over as president at a time of the party’s then lowest numbers — 114. The Congress now has governments in just six states, including Puducherry, and could lose one of those states — Himachal Pradesh — on Monday. It has lost 10 state governments since the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, and won only two. During this period, two former chief ministers, five UPA ministers, four former PCC presidents, several former state ministers, and many senior leaders have left the party.
The BJP did not issue a detailed reaction to Rahul’s speech, but its party spokespersons declared the Congress continued to be guided by a “corrupt thought process”, and shrugged off Rahul’s elevation.
Sambit Patra referred to the conviction and sentencing of former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda in the alleged coal scam that shook the UPA-II government, saying it was an irony that even after four years, corruption cases continued to tumble out. “This speaks volumes about the thought process, the working nature of Congress party. So a new president or an old president, the working style of Congress party, the corrupt ways of Congress party still remain the same,” he told reporters.
GVL Narasimha Rao tweeted: “Who says @INCIndia doesn’t know event management? When was a “Non-Event” celebrated with such great fervour & on such scale? Rahul Gandhi was already leading his party. If the celebration is for the “certificate”, it makes sense. Certificates are hard to come by.”
In attendance at the lawns of the AICC headquarters was the entire top leadership of the Congress from across the country, and Rahul’s sister and brother-in-law, Priyanka and Robert Vadra. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was the first to address the gathering, too, made a reference to hate.
“Rahul is taking over… at the time when there are certain disturbing trends noticeable in our politics,” he said. “As a distinguished academic pointed out a few days ago, there are dangers that the politics of fear will take over the politics of hope. Rahul, we depend upon you to ensure that the politics of fear does not prevail over the politics of hope which this country needs.”
Speaking after Singh and Sonia, the new president launched a frontal attack on Prime Minister Modi. “We are now being compelled to imagine that businesses can be built without harmony, that only one man, one man himself, is the voice of reason, that expertise, experience and knowledge can be cast aside for personal glory, that it is acceptable for our foreign policy to lie in tatters so that one man can feel strong, and that everything in fact is subservient to the leader’s personal image,” he said.
“Many of us are disillusioned today by the politics of our times. Because what we see before us is a politics devoid of kindness and truth… today, politics is not being used in the service of the people, it is being used to crush them, not to lift them up.
“Those in power in India today are shaped by the very structures (of power) that keep India poor. The Congress took India into the 21st century while the Prime Minister today is taking us backwards, to a medieval past where people are butchered because of who they are, beaten for what they believe and killed for what they eat.
“This ugly violence shames us in the world. Our country, whose philosophy and history is born out of love and compassion, is tarnished by such horror and no amount of hugs can repair the damage done to this great country of ours. This vision belongs to a time where people did not have the rights and freedoms that have made our country the profound entity it is — a time when people did not have voice, did not have the right to dissent, to disagree, to differ, to be,” he said.
The Congress, Rahul said, considers the BJP its brothers and sisters even though it does not agree with it. “They want an India free of the Congress, they want to erase us, but the Congress’s inclusion and respect for all Indians extends even to the BJP. We do not fight hate with hate. The Congress has met, and will always meet, our challenges and struggles with love and affection.”
He also reached out to the youth: “…We are India’s grand old party. But we are going to make it India’s grand old and young party in the coming days. I want give an invitation to all the youth, whoever you are, come let us make an India of love and brotherhood. We will fight and defeat the politics of anger.”