Admire Rahul Gandhi's fearless pose

There is a growing sense that BJP does not speak for Hindus

#FerozKhanKaPota was trending on X; so, naturally, I thought Fardeen Khan’s son was making his Bollywood debut. Bit young to be launched was my initial thought, but then I figured he could be taking the Jaden Smith route. Anyway, I clicked on the hashtag, and much to my disappointment it turned out to be the same old right-wing ravings about the ‘Muslim origins’ and ‘stupidities’ of Rahul Gandhi. Disappointment, because I genuinely thought the BJP bots were smarter than this. Surely, they realise that the pappufication of Rahul—rather like wabi-sabi decor and Sabyasachi reds—is so last season? Like it or not, Rahul is no longer a lightweight, a dynast or a reluctant politician. He’s sharp, he’s smart, he’s doing his homework—his speeches are fiery, his rebuttals instant and stinging. He has self-appointed fairy godmothers on YouTube and the independent media and his championing of the idea of India, as envisioned by our founding fathers, has caught the imagination of the nation.

It doesn’t hurt that with his worked-out chest and silvery stubble he’s giving what Gen Z likes to call DILDO (Dad I’d Like to Do.) Best of all, with his doubled numbers and as the official leader of opposition, he is looking at ease in Parliament, looking in fact, as if to the manner born (which of course he is). Seated in the front row, besides the portly, homespun Awadhesh Prasad—whose very presence in the house is a slap in the face of the BJP’s brand of politics—he comes across as a total insider, relaxed, respectful and yet informal—a fourth generation parliamentarian, so much more at home in the new building than the men who commissioned it. These worthies on the other hand, look sullen, stiff and stuck-up—never a good look.

Illustration: Deni Lal Illustration: Deni Lal

The Pappu tag worked ten years ago because it rang true, and ‘bhaiy ki sarkar’ (a government that rules through fear) is a label that will stick because of the same reason. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have ruled primarily through fear, a fear fostered by their brute majority and the stranglehold they had on the nation’s institutions. Which is why re-baptising the Congress’s symbol as a secular, non-violent abhayamudra or the fearless pose, and juxtapositioning it against the rule of fear is more than just a smart piece of speech-writing, it is product repositioning and brand relaunching at its best.

The standout line from Rahul’s speech (addressed directly to Modi) was a defiant, ringing ‘aap Hindu ho hi nahi’ [you are not Hindu]. Obviously he feels empowered enough to say this because (to quote Mahua Moitra) even Lord Ram himself has said, ‘Not in my name’ through the verdict in Ayodhya.

There is a growing sense that the BJP does not speak for all Hindus, that many are deeply uncomfortable with its politics of hate and prefer a gentler, deeply personal practice of Hinduism. This is the trending sentiment Rahul has latched on to, and this made up the meat of his speech. Modi interjected at this point (a rare event, he prefers to ignore Rahul utterly, like Manipur, women wrestlers and Aryan Khan and so much else) and accused Rahul of calling all Hindus violent. But Rahul fact-checked that on the spot. Such fun!

I was wondering what to watch now that India has won the World Cup, but now I’m thinking that these battles over the soul of Hinduism in our more balanced Parliament may actually fill my entertainment void. My children did come around to try and change the channel but I just raised my hand and showed them the abhayamudra. Who knows, maybe hate and hindutva are also on their way to becoming so last season?