The first outreach programme of Rahul Gandhi, a year-and-half after the Congress was thrown out of power and he occupied opposition benches, at Mount Carmel College in Bangalore left him hugely embarrassed.
By the time the over-an-hour interaction – his opening statement and a question and answer session ended – it was clear that the Congress vice president, who kept on stressing on one word “conversation” with all concerned and position of women in society at large, was clearly out of sync with the popular pulse, at least those in this metropolis.
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The questions were so pointed that Rahul for the first time accepted that GST was a good reformist bill and the Congress would support it if the government was inclined to engage with them and address “three concerns” including capping of taxes proposed in the bill.
Rahul seemed ill-prepared to handle questions which came from the young girls. It was part of the format of the programme. Unfortunately for him, the big embarrassing moment came when responding to his question whether the Swachh Bharat campaign was working the students responded with a loud “Yes”.
Surprised by the response, he said he would ask a different question: “You think Make in India is good”? Again there was a loud “Yes” for answer. Rahul was clearly stumped not just by their approval of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India programme but also the ferocity with which the students responded. “You think so!” he said. Then he asked: do you think youth are getting jobs in India? The answer was a mix of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. But Rahul heard ‘No’ for all the three questions he asked. He then added that BJP idea had not worked.
This session must be particularly revealing to Rahul and the Congress because for the better part of his opening statement he had blasted the prime minister, the BJP and the RSS. He kept on targeting Modi, saying the government at the Centre was being run by one man and the PMO was controlling it all. By contrast, he (Rahul) stood for dialogue, discussion conversation. He also said in the early part of his life he had been mostly in the company of women – grandmother, mother and sister – and realised that problem in this country was that the women did not get the respect and position they deserved.
But the kind of questions that came indicated that the most girls were not convinced with Rahul’s argument on goodness of the Congress party and evilness of Modi and the BJP.
Interestingly, after he came out of the convention hall, he told media persons that he got no clear view on Swachh Bharat. “Half of them said nothing has happened, some said something has happened.” On Make in India, he said most said “No”, some said ‘’Yes”. The Congress vice-president was perhaps unmindful of the fact that his interaction was broadcast live on all national channels, apparently on feed provided by his party itself.
Sample the questions that came to Rahul from young girl students. The first question from a girl from North-East was: Why no conversation was held with Iron Sahrmila during her years long fast?
Second, you talk about Suit Boot (Modi) government but what’s wrong with that if it brings development and achieves economic growt?
Third, GST, an important economic reform bill was piloted by the Congress but why is the party stalling it when it is moved by the BJP?
Fourth, why is the opposition stalling Parliament merely for opposing the government?
Fifth, why the youth was going either to the BJP or to the AAP and not to the Congress party?
Sixth, does aligning with the RJD in Bihar not mean that the Congress is compromising with corruption?
Seven, why after several years of Congress rule both at the centre and in states, North-East has been left neglected (the girl asking question referred to a particular stretch in Assam).
Such questions continued. Rahul response was not very coherent. He blamed Modi government for all the prevailing ills. For N-E alienation, he blamed the Modi government for withdrawing special status category to these states. For aligning with Lalu he deviated to say prime minister was killing RTI and to Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Singh Chouhan. He did refer to Digvijaya Singh about half a dozen times.
He obviously had a rough landing at Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, a place which could have provided him an ideal launching pad to set the “intolerance” agenda against the Modi government in motion for the Winter Session which starts on Thursday.