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Jadoo ki jhaapi that changed it all!

By Shobhaa De

Come on… wipe that sheepish grin off your face. Everybody…or at least all those of you who had written off Rahul Gandhi and called him all sorts of unkind names ever since he decided he was going to keep his non-stop partying on hold and actually get into the family business in a serious way. He’s the one having the last laugh now. Once he was anointed president of his great-great grandfather’s party, the sceptics scoffed and the rivals mocked. But the aam janta got used to seeing him engaging in fiery debates ….after carefully rolling up his kurta sleeves, much as if he was getting ready for a kushti. Of course, cynics sniggered. And all those smug BJP folks laughed uproariously at the audacity shown by a person who was perceived as a huge national joke. Rahul sensibly ignored those belligerent personal attacks and continued to flash those dimples! This, in retrospect, turned out to be a great strategy — they simply could not get a rise out of him! He soldiered on, rushing about like an eager college kid on a study tour. Perhaps, for the first time in his 46 years, Rahul Gandhi was getting to know his own country, and the people he is likely to lead in the very near future. Gradually, a new body language began to evolve and his limited Hindi vocabulary took a quantum leap! He seemed as surprised by his fluency in a language which he may only have used with house help, to order breakfast or an aperitif. But there he was jabbering away earnestly with farmers and lowly folks in villages, without making the mistake of talking down to them. He looked sincere — maybe he WAS sincere, like he actually cared about their lives and miserable condition. It’s possible a great big parivartan had indeed taken place. Simultaneously, he also discovered his inner voice, like his mother famously had, when faced with a dilemma (“to be or not to be the Prime Minister”, that was the question). The new, articulate and relaxed Rahul started winning hearts (read: potential votes). But even at that stage, nobody took him seriously. Least of all, self-styled analysts and NaMo fans, who continued to make fun of his efforts, while shaking their heads in mock-sympathy, and tirelessly repeating the same old lines, “What a pity Pappu is the face of the Congress Party. Can’t they find a more competent leader? India needs a strong Opposition!”

Well, guess what baby. Now you have one!

How did the tide turn… and when? I would say, Rahul Gandhi’s “jadoo ki jhappi” on July 20th did the trick. Who can forget that dramatic moment when, after a 40-minute impassioned speech in which he made several digs at the PM, he rushed across the floor of the House and hugged a very startled and far from amused Narendra Modi? Of course, that moment captured on camera made it to the front pages of every major daily and was widely dissected. PM Modi’s lame and rather clumsy comeback did nothing to salvage the situation subsequently. It was Advantage Rahul. And that’s how it has remained. Amusingly enough, there are only two perceived “brats” in India right now — both are media superstars with a vast fan following — Taimur Ali Khan and Rahul Gandhi. Please don’t be mean and say their mental age matches!

I remember having an animated discussion about “the hug” with a small group of political pundits (stuffed shirts with fixed views) the same evening. Well… there was “the hug”… and then came “the wink”. All the men felt Rahul had completely blown it! They found both gestures terribly childish, even foolish, and said Rahul had effectively committed political hara kiri and made an ass of himself. I argued vehemently that it was an inspired and brilliant performance that would be gobbled up by Young India — particularly the sly wink! Remember, it was at a time when an attractive female actor’s wink had gone viral and sent the country into an absolute tizzy. What Priya Warrier achieved on screen minus any calculation, was maxed by Rahul in Parliament. That was Rahul’s seminal moment, and the beginning of the end for NaMo. Rahul’s consistent chant about love overcoming hate may have been inspired by the Beatles and the peaceniks, but for the current generation of Indians, sickened by the politics of negativity and religious strife, Rahul’s anthem came as a refreshing change. Inadvertently, he became India’s new age poster boy for the “Make Love, Not War” hippie movement of the distant 70s, that had captured the imagination of global youth, tormented by the violence of the Vietnam War.

I think it’s kind of cool. We may have our very own, laidback hippie Prime Minister next year. I can see chillums and flower power staging a huge comeback, with masses of young, guitar-strumming, long-haired people wearing Hare Rama guru shirts and beaded headbands, as they gather at India Gate for what were described as “love-ins” in those days. Of course, all this is fluff. And of cosmetic value, nothing more — as of now! But some major churning is taking place across India and we cannot afford to ignore it. Young people are saying directly or indirectly that they are done with the politics of hate, the venom-spewing of netas, and the ugly face of divisive politics. “Give peace a chance” … sang John Lennon years ago, and the world sang along with him. American politics changed virtually overnight, and the Vietnam war ended finally. We are at that inflexion point right now. We have the choice to vote for a man who may not be brilliant, but has heart and speaks the language of love.

Or we can go right back to a bunch of canny people we trusted… but who didn’t honour our precious trust. Placing faith in Rahul Gandhi involves a gigantic risk. But it’s a risk worth taking. We tried voting with our dimaag. It’s time to vote with our dil.