BEHIND RAHUL GANDHI’S COMING OF AGE STORY LIES THE HUMBLE POTATO

The article originally appeared on DailyO.

Today, while speaking on price rise in Parliament, Rahul Gandhi again revisited his favourite metaphor – potato – and thankfully his background team had supplied him with a logical and well-researched dataset this time.

While taking on the Narendra Modi government left, right and centre, and saying that the prices of the essential commodities have increased multi-fold during the first two years of Modi sarkar, he reined in his temptation to get longwinded with his most-loved weapon of comparative criticism – the good old potato.

He said the price of potato was Rs 23 in May 2014 and that has gone up to Rs 28 in July 2016. Well, that is the prevailing market price and has been hovering somewhere in the range of Rs 20 to 30 a kilo in Delhi’s retail markets.

We can understand that Rahul Gandhi could not set aside his temptation to insert potato in his high-voltage Lok Sabha speech today, but we should appreciate that he didn’t go on exaggerating about its price. The truth is Rahul had plenty of other data to bolster his claims, including the sky-high prices of lentils, a real worry for all.

The “Arhar Modi” jibe has really caught on, to his credit.

Rahul loves to use metaphors in his speeches. Like “Kalawati”, “Girish” and others, potato, too, is an important (and recurring) metaphor in Rahul’s speeches.

He reinserts these words like leitmotifs to express his concerns on the misery of the farming community in some pockets of India (especially in the non-Congress ruled states).

It seems, with time, he has worked on it and has learnt his lessons – and is gradually ratcheting up his elocution skills – from one event to the next.

Even the last time, when Rahul Gandhi had used the “potato” emphatically in his speech, it was quite clear that his speechwriters had worked diligently on the background behind his chosen words. The data to back up his claims reflected Rahul’s genuine concern for the poor, of which the “potato prices” were an important and sincere marker.

It was a Monday, October 7, 2013. The audience had come to hear the Congress vice-president during the stone-laying event of Uttar Pradesh’s first mega food park in his parliamentary constituency, Amethi, that was being set by the Aditya Birla group (a project that was later junked).

It being an agricultural event, the ambience was apt to come back once again to the potato metaphor, in order to contextualise how the farmers suffered in the non-Congress ruled states.

And he made good use of it. He got the clear tab on the prevailing potato prices in the area this time (unlike in Amreli in December 2012) from the crowd and juxtaposed the low potato prices with the high potato chips prices, while laying out the factors responsible for farmers’ misery.

Okay, if the potato was retailing at around Rs 20 a kilo in urban centres then, the Rs 10 a kilo price tag in rural areas was acceptable. So, Rahul’s potato wisdom sounded somewhat logical. No Monday blues.

When we see the genesis and progress of Rahul Gandhi’s “potato metaphors”, we can clearly how he has beefed up his knowledge base about his favourite idea and the difference from then to now is for everyone to see.

During campaigning in Amreli for Gujarat assembly elections on December 11, 2012, Rahul Gandhi had got confused over potato pricing while connecting it with the potato chips economics. He asked the audience about the potato price there and went on quoting it at Rs 3 a kilo. Making a pitch for FDI in retail, he said while potato was being sold at Rs 3 a kilo, while a small potato chips packet was sold sold at Rs 10.

The fact was – in Amreli, when Rahul Gandhi was delivering his speech, the minimum price for a kilo of potatoes was Rs 10 at the wholesale market, and much higher in the retail market.

Rahul Gandhi’s Congress was in the Union government in Delhi then and was trying to introduce the retail FDI, which the BJP, then in opposition in the Centre, was vehemently opposing. Rahul Gandhi and his speechwriters, in their zest to prove the FDI logic, didn’t bother to crosscheck their numbers.

Potato, for Rahul Gandhi, got cheaper than even Rs 3 a kilo in December 2011. At the Farrukhabad and Kannauj rallies on December 17, 2011, Rahul Gandhi told farmers that while the potato was being sold for Rs 2 or less a kilo, a potato chips packet fetched Rs 10.

He reiterated his stand the next month – sticking to his claim. At a Tarn Taran rally in January 2012, the potato price quoted by Rahul again came out to be Rs 2 or less than Rs 2 a kilo. While pitching for FDI in retail, Rahul said that farmers should support it as potato chips made from “half a potato” were sols at much higher price points that the potato itself. Rahul asserted that a free market sector can only be the answer to such huge price differentials where the farmer would get more and fairer options to sell his produce.

From December 2011 to December 2012, for Rahul Gandhi, the potato price had gone up by Rs 1 only, and that too, from the paltry figure of Rs 2 to Rs 3 a kilo.

Illogical, unacceptable were these outlandish claims.

And what added more to the aura of scepticism around Rahul Gandhi’s statements was the issue he was focusing on – a policy measure, FDI in retail, on which the country and its politics was visibly divided.

Gone are the days when any vegetable would be available at such low prices. Potato at Rs 2 or 3 a kilo used to be the thing of the last century, at around late 80s and early 90s.

So, from that trend, the potato price of Rs 10 a kilo from 2012 to 2013 showed a logical improvement in Rahul’s deployment of data. It was more or less acceptable given the localisation factor of the place where the speech was being delivered.

And with the Parliament speech Thursday, it seems the course correction process is complete.

Rahul Gandhi’s address in Parliament today has given us hopes that from now onwards we will see a better rationalisation of his potato metaphor whenever he chooses to use it in order to target the political opposition, particularly the Narendra Modi government.

©SantoshChaubey

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