Rahul Gandhi was the protagonist in the first half of the no-trust drama in the Lok Sabha. He consciously positioned himself as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's opponent-in-chief. Presumably, the idea was to lay claim to leadership of the mahagathbandhan-to-be.
In his most aggressive avatar yet, Rahul literally yelled himself hoarse. He deliberately broke protocol to needle BJP chief Amit Shah and the RSS and added to the list of 'Rahul-isms' by describing the four years of Modi as a series of “Jumla strikes”.
The piece de resistance was his no-holds barred attack on the PM and Defence minister on the Rafael deal, accusing them of lying to the electorate and hinting broadly at massive graft. The allegations were just short of outrageous and invited a gentle ticking-off from Speaker Sumitra Mahajan.
The attack on the PM was personal, focussing on his various acts of omission and commission, the common thread being that he had taken the electorate for a right royal ride. Rahul mocked the PM's extravagant promises, like 20 million jobs for youth and depositing Rs 15 lakh in the bank account of the last man.
He took ownership of GST as a Congress idea first opposed by Modi and then perverted beyond recognition. He described demonetisation as a direct strike against the common man, akin to reaching into pockets and grabbing every last penny. Farmers, dalits, youth and women, he said, had all gotten the short end of the stick. Aware that Modi takes great pride in his programmes for women – beti bachao beti padhao et al – he declared that women were worse off than they had ever been.
Rahul also characterized the PM as pro-rich and power-hungry. He hinted that staying in power was a compulsion for Modi, as being stripped of office would render him vulnerable. The threat of losing power made the PM fearful and angry, he said. By contrast, he harboured neither anger against his rivals nor a burning desire to stay in power.
As if anticipating a counter-attack from the BJP, he gracefully acknowledged his 'Pappu' image. Interestingly, his speech was devoid of the usual 'secular' rant and he made it a point to invoke Lord Shiva.
All in all, his performance was creditable, if a bit over the top. To further enhance the dramatic element and perhaps recalling the PM's penchant for hugs, he walked over and gave him a squeeze.
The PM snickered through most of Rahul's speech, although his smile did disappear when Rahul went on his Rafael rant.
The entertainment value apart, voters were left wondering exactly what the no-trust motion achieved. Given that it didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding and elections are less than a year away, it was little more than an opportunity for grandstanding, which Rahul used to the fullest.
Interestingly, the debate also exposed the contradictions within the Opposition. The inaugural speaker, the TDP's Jayadev Galla, banging on about the BJP's perfidy, suddenly shifted gears and attacked the Congress for bifurcating Andhra Pradesh in a “crude, unscientific” way. Rahul did not answer that charge.