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

RAHUL SPEAKS – #RAHULROAR VS #PAPPUMEOWS

I took three snapshots of Twitter today, for its India trends – at around 6 PM – at 7 PM – and at around 9 PM.

In the first two, though the hashtag #RahulRoar was number one, it was followed by #PappuMeows on number two.

But in the third, at 9 PM, while #RahulRoar was still at number one, I could not locate #PappuMeows. It was out from the trending list of Twitter for its India-wide trends.

While #RahulRoar is launched by Rahul Gandhi’s fans, #PappuMeows is launched by Rahul’s detractors.

Rahul Gandhi-6PM

Rahul Gandhi-7PM

Rahul Gandhi-9.30PM

While Rahul didn’t speak anything new in the highly publicised farmers’ rally yesterday, he looked and sounded more confident today, taking on Narendra Modi and his government – over the issues ranging from farmers’ suicides pushed up by unseasonal rains to the land acquisition act.

And his fans are buoyed by him today it looks – at least his fans who use Twitter.

But there are many beyond Twitter. And that includes his mother Sonia Gandhi and the political rivals of the BJP led National Democratic Alliance government. While Rahul was delivering his speech the Lok Sabha the Budget Session of which resumed today, the faces of MPs surrounding him were worth watching. They were all elated as if Rahul’s sabbatical had extended its benefits to them as well.

It is 9:30 PM now, the time for the last Twitter snapshot of the day and #RahulRoar is still trending at the top of India trends, followed by the known IPL trend of #DDvsKKR at number two.

Rahul Gandhi-9.30PM

Will it change anything on the ground?

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

RAHUL SPEAKS – FROM THE OPPOSITION BENCHES IN LOK SABHA

So far, Rahul Gandhi had made only two speeches in the Parliament worth remembering. And going on his political career so far, he had failed to live up to.

He failed to speak in the Parliament, and among the public. He failed to own up when Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption agitation was at its peak. He failed to speak on time when the agitation against Delhi gang-rape of December 16, 2012 was on peak. He failed to own up Congress’ low while Congress’ decline touched a historic low.

Yesterday, he spoke, after a series of debacles and humiliating losses, but he could not offer anything new, even if he had taken some two months to think over the rout (as claimed). The projected mega rally of farmers at the Ramlila Ground turned out to be a routine affair.

And today, he spoke in the Lok Sabha. In all probability, it was his third speech in the lower House.

Budget Session of the Lok Sabha reconvened today again after a hiatus of 30 days and it was headed for a stormy session given the controversial statements of leaders and ministers (like we saw in case of Giriraj Singh today) and issues like ‘land acquisition ordinance’ and communal harmony among others.

Rahul Gandhi was better today. He looked confident and sounded more confident when he spoke. Though the Robert Vadra tag will not leave him anywhere, until he finds a honest remedy to it.

The farmer that is getting angrier or is in two minds and the common man – on Narendra Modi’s land acquisition ordinance and the anti-poor policies – will certainly react negatively when it will come to the issue of Robert Vadra’s status.

Yes, Robert Vadra as such is no issue. But his VVIP status, his riches and allegations of corruption are something that would make the common man an angry soul. This is something Rahul Gandhi needs to work on. And if his task is made difficult by the humiliating electoral losses of Congress, he has also a window of opportunity in portraying the government pro-rich, anti-farmer and anti-common man. But for that, he needs to do the cleansing of his house first.

Also, there were words about Sonia Gandhi fixing the time for Rahul’s speech. Reportedly, she had spoken with some opposition parties for Rahul’s speech and had issued a whip for Congress MPs. But only 28 of the 44 Congress MPs were present in the House when Rahul was speaking (from the opposition benches, for the first time).

For the moment, we are going to take everyone’s observation with a fistful of salt. It is difficult to believe on the verity of different data-sets.

Rahul came with his own. Government came with its own. States have differing versions. In centre were two issues – farmers’ suicide pushed by unseasonal rains and land acquisition.

The fact midst all this is – farmers are dying, pushed to the extremities by the rain gods and the policymakers at the centre and in the states.

And land is a sensitive issue for this country of some 1.25 billion, the world’s largest democracy. Most of its farmers are small land occupants and marginal labourers and the condition has worsened over the years.

The verity about data-sets will come only with time and proper implementation, something that we have missed so far, irrespective of the ‘policy in question’.

And the whole political lot is to share the blame for it.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/