New Delhi: Hours after he was selected to lead the Congress party in its bid for a third shot in power, Rahul Gandhi addressed thousands of Congress workers today, vowing, “We are warriors, and we will go into battle knowing what we stand for.”
Mr Gandhi used his lengthy speech to adrenalise party workers who are disappointed that he has not been named the Congress’s prime ministerial candidate, a decision taken last night by his mother and Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
The 43-year-old alluded to that controversial call, announcing, “I will do anything you want me to, I am a loyal solider” while stressing that the Congress traditionally does not announce its prime ministerial choice before voting.
Often seen as a public speaker without pulse-raising prowess, Mr Gandhi jabbed the air often with his finger, made a few quips (“some of you are young, others are young at heart,” he said, drawing a smile from his mother) and urged the thousands gathered to remember that their party “is not an organisation but a philosophy that respects the rights and dignity of every individual,” an attempt to underscore the Congress’s emphasis on secularism as its big differentiator.
He targeted the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, by declaring “We don’t light communal fires” and “democracy is not rule by one person.” The opposition, he said, “is such a marketing expert that it sells not just combs but haircuts to the bald.”
A section of the party believes that naming him as its choice for PM could have recharged its batteries at a time when voters associate the Congress with stubborn inflation and deep-rooted corruption. The Congress is lagging well behind the BJP in opinion polls and crashed in recent elections for key states like Delhi despite fronting Mr Gandhi as its star campaigner.
But senior leaders have been concerned that officially declaring Mr Gandhi their candidate in an election which seems tough to win could reduce its big young hope to the fall guy.