Among the questions that the 2019 polls would answer is whether Rahul Gandhi can shake off the pappu image that the Sanghi trolls have successfully trapped him in. Though Narendra Modi stands head and shoulders above him, aided by Balakot, Rahul Gandhi did vow thousands of students at a Chennai college.
Many of his answers, especially those that seemed to come from the heart, were met with cheers. As first time voters, the baggage of 2014 was lost on them, and they appreciated a jeans-clad national leader talking one-to-one with them. Their loudest cheer was reserved for a dig that Rahul took on Modi when he asked the students if the Prime Minister would talk to them one-on-one in a town hall like-setting, the way he was doing.
Throughout the interaction that lasted for about 45 minutes, the refrain, “don’t call me sir, call me Rahul”, defined the tone of engagement. It was not a harangue from an adult but banter with a peer. And it did cut much ice with the students. Shameema, a first year student, of the department of Botany, said, “I did not imagine him to be that down-to- earth. It came as a complete surprise to me.”
Even as the questions varied from women and education to terrorism and Kashmir, apart from ‘why he hugged PM Narendra Modi in Parliament,’ his effortless responses conjured up an image that went beyond being the ‘pappu of politics’. While the charisma worked well, the students were well aware of the idea behind the agenda. “We are first time voters and he wanted to engage with us, in the run up to the elections. But he has not chosen to wear a kurta pyjama to make us believe that this is not a formal election campaign,” said a maths student, on condition of anonymity.
But all was not smooth for the 48-year-old Congress president, as one of the students pointed out that he had not included Robert Vadra in his response to a question on corruption. Visibly caught off guard, he gathered his poise to pull himself together and answer it with a straight face.
Women’s empowerment surfaced on the agenda when he spoke about women in the South being treated better than their counterparts in the North. Some pointed out that he had diluted the discrimination women faced in the region. According to Manasa, a third year student of the department of sociology, he was beating around the bush. For that matter, his attack on the PM too was viewed with some suspicion as some said they would do a fact-check before completely believing him.
But on the whole, the exercise did garner the attention RaGa needed,with the Stella Marians endorsing his positive impact. Amidst a few fumbles and bumbles, humble Rahul did take a gamble for good.