Rahul Gandhi goes desi: Je hui na baat bhayya
The loudspeakers blare a Hindi election ditty, “Je hui na baat bhayya, je hui na baat! Ab to Akhilesh ka hai saath bhayya, je hui na baat.” There are pictures of Sonia Gandhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav – not of Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav – on banners framing the stage with the slogan – UP ko ye saath pasand hai! The pictures of Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh are at the bottom of the posters.
The music suddenly stops as the crowd goes silent to hear Rahul Gandhi.
He tells them that in 2014 a film was launched. It was called “Achhe Din”. Two and half years later, when the film was complete, its name had been changed, he says, to “Sholay”. And then we realised, “Ab to Gabbar Singh aa gaya.”
The crowd claps and guffaws.
This is at Pindra, a constituency outside Varanasi and the Congress Vice President is campaigning for Ajai Rai from the Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance.
He has the crowd eating out of his hands when he says in colloquial Hindi, “When you make a film, you hire a director, a hero, a heroine and singers. You may have a Shah Rukh Khan, a Deepika Padukone and someone to croon. Par ek aadmi hai jo aisee film banaata hai jis mein wo hi hero, wo hi director, wo hi photographer aur wo hi gaana bhi gaata hai (But here is this man who makes a film in which he is not only the hero but also the director, cinematographer and singer.” The crowd erupts again.
He asks the crowd, “What was Modiji’s principle for notebandi?” And then answers the question to the glee of the crowd saying, “Gareebon se paisa kheencho aur ameeron ko seencho (snatch money from the poor and channel it to the rich).
Only a year ago it would have been unthinkable that the Congress Vice President was capable of cracking jokes in public and that people would actually laugh at them. But there clearly has been a remarkable transformation in Rahul Gandhi.
His campaigning style is no longer unapproachable. It has been desified and it is rich with local idiom, gestures and attitudes. Today, he is able to communicate much more effectively with rural and semi-urban audiences than ever before.
He seems to be able to assimilate popular cultural references in his speeches to make effective political points. The use of popular culture to convey political messages is not new to Indian politics. It is new to Rahul Gandhi.
Thus he says, “When Modiji realises that he is about to lose an election, he begins to say things that will divide people and he is doing this in Uttar Pradesh.” He assures the crowd that this strategy will not work in UP breaking into a Sahir Ludhianvi song, “Na Hindu banega, no Musalmaan banega. Insaan ki aulad hai insaan banega!” And the crowd roars.
Sahir Ludhianvi’s song becomes the vehicle for communicating a tolerant and humanist identity as opposed to the BJP’s inward looking politics based on religious intolerance.
Bharat Bhushan/Catch NewsYoung Congress supporters at Rahul Gandhi's rally in Pindra
Rahul Gandhi makes fun of Narendra Modi’s claim during the 2014 general election that he was the son of “Ma Ganga” and that she had invited him to Varanasi. “Poore Hindustan mein Ma Ganga ko ek hi beta mila kya? Aur wo bhi Gujarat se? Baaki log Ma Ganga ke bete nahin hain kya? (In the whole country did Ma Ganga find only one son and that too from Gujarat? What happened to the rest of us? Are we not Ma Ganga’s children)?” he asks.
“And then this son started doing 'saudebaazi' with Ma Ganga,” he says. “He told Ma Ganga let’s do a deal. You make me Prime Minister first then I will clean you.”
In using the word “saudebaazi”, the Congress Vice President is able to paint his political rival as a wheeler-dealer. It does not matter whether that is true but it certainly is smart politics. Rahul Gandhi finally seems to effectively returning the personal jibes that Modi has been making against him.
Rahul Gandhi then proceeded to puncture Modi’s claims that he is the adopted son of UP, saying in the style of a Bollywood dialogue writer, “Rishta jataane se nahin, nibhane se bantaa hai! (People must honour a relationship, not assert it)”. One again he had the crowd cheering on its feet.
His improved political communication suggests that irrespective of the election results in UP, at the end of the polls we may see the emergence of Rahul Gandhi as a much more effective political communicator than before.
As he stops speaking, the music starts again, “Je hui na baat bhayya, je hui na baat!” And people virtually dance their way out of the meeting ground.