What’s in a beard, you might ask. Well, a lot, if the person in question is a leading politician in India with quite a lot at stake.
Rahul Gandhi’s growing facial hair drew just as much attention as did Bharat Jodo Yatra over the course of those four months. Analysts even said his beard symbolised his growing maturity as a politician, while political opponents poked fun at his ragged look.
Now that the Congress MP has trimmed his unkempt beard and donned a polished look for a speech at Cambridge University on the topic of “Learning to Listen in the 21st Century,” his beard is back in discussion, with fans going gaga over his “new look” and detractors smirking at them, asking if he was a model whose new looks were to be celebrated.
ब्रिटेन पहुंचे श्री @RahulGandhi, कैंब्रिज यूनिवर्सिटी में देंगे लेक्चर, 'लर्निंग टू लिसन इन द 21वीं सेंचुरी' पर करेंगे चर्चा।#RahulGandhi #cambridgeuniversity pic.twitter.com/qzrscVkght
— Indian Youth Congress (@IYC) March 1, 2023
Rahul’s big makeover act
Rahul is not the only politician in India whose growing beard has been keenly followed. His greatest rival Narendra Modi’s facial hair drew as much attention during the Covid-19 days as Rahul’s did during the Bharat Jodo Yatra and is still doing now. While the Prime Minister’s supporters thought he looked like a “fakir,” as he has proclaimed himself to be in the past, detractors felt it was a sad attempt to look like Rabindranath Tagore.
Rahul’s beard was compared to people ranging from the father of communism Karl Marx to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain to the fictitious character Forrest Gump in the eponymous Hollywood movie. Political observers felt his journey from a clean-shaven, dimpled look to the scraggly, unassuming look symbolised his 4080-km journey though the length of India — and it also did its bit in ridding him of his “Pappu” image that BJP stamped upon him to keep a permanent focus on his political immaturity.
Also read: Is Bharat Jodo Yatra changing Rahul as a person? The Cong leader answers
“The beard has given him a certain degree of seriousness. He has arrived as a man; he is no longer Indira Gandhi’s grandson, Rajiv Gandhi’s son. He is now Rahul Gandhi, the man,” advertising industry veteran Prahlad Kakkar had told PTI after the Yatra got over on January 30.
Rohit Ohri, the CEO of media firm FCB Group India, had told PTI that the Bharat Yodo Yatra was Rahul’s big “makeover act.” “As a symbol it (the beard) stands for… the new wisdom of age, the hard labour of the prince, the ‘nation-before-self’ belief and the tough never-say-die spirit,” Ohri told PTI.
Rahul Gandhi in Cambridge. With a New Look 😎 pic.twitter.com/IUqOs93kDp
— Rajasthan Youth Congress (@Rajasthan_PYC) March 1, 2023
Beard stood for yatra stories
From political observers to rival politicians to social media users to the media, everyone keenly followed Rahul’s looks throughout the Yatra. His white T-shirt-clad look in the famed north Indian winter was discussed just as much. Only on the last day, he donned a Kashmiri pheran.
Kakkar had termed Rahul’s look as “coming-of-age,” pointing out that “the moustache and the beard have always been revered as an arrival of manhood in our country.” He also felt it was because of the new avatar, the BJP was trying to counter his dialogue. “…if your enemy regards you as a serious contender, then you have achieved 90 per cent of what you had gone out to achieve,” he told PTI.
Also read: With Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul Gandhi has taken the Congress left of centre
Once the Yatra was over, the media kept asking when Rahul would shave his beard. Congress leader Pawan Khera recently said Rahul’s beard “carried the stories of thousands of people” who met him during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. “Your beard stands for the yatra that we witnessed,” he said.
Kakkar had also remarked that the key question for Rahul would be to shave or not since the yatra was over. Ohri had said that he believed the beard would stay. And he seems to have been right, at least for the moment.
Welcome new look
When the 52-year-old Gandhi scion landed in the UK on Wednesday (March 1) to deliver the speech at Cambridge University, he seemed to have had yet another makeover. He had styled his now-famous beard and had a haircut. The Congress MP looked dapper in a suit instead of a white T-shirt.
Many social media users shared his images and some used the hashtag #NewLook. Some seemed to have been relieved themselves and tweeted that the beard was “finally” gone.
Rahul’s week-long tour as a Visiting Fellow of the Cambridge Judge Business School (Cambridge JBS) will include the student-only lecture at the famed university, which is also his alma mater. He also reportedly plans to hold closed-door sessions on “Big Data and Democracy” and “India-China relations” with Professor Shruti Kapila, an Indian-origin Fellow, Tutor and Director of Studies at the university’s Corpus Christi College and Co-Director of the Global Humanities Initiative.
(With agency inputs)