The visit to Tamil Nadu on Thursday by former Congress president Rahul Gandhi assumes tremendous significance, as much for the reason that it comes in the run-up to the Assembly elections scheduled for April-May as it does for his effort to position himself in the lead of his party's electoral campaign. This comes in the midst of the questions regarding the leadership issue in the party.
Dressed quite apolitically in blue jeans and T-shirt, Rahul signalled the launch of the Congress's campaign for the coming Assembly polls by timing his visit with the state's harvest festival. His effort to project the Congress as being attuned to the cultural ethos of the state was well evident as he took part in Pongal festivities and witnessed the bull-taming sport Jallikattu in Madurai.
“It was quite a lovely experience to see Tamil culture, history in action. I am happy that Jallikattu is being organised in a systematic and safe way that both the bull and the youngsters are safe and everybody is being taken care of,” he said.
The Congress's efforts have to be seen in the context of the popular perception in the state that the national party is more focused on issues that are nationally relevant and not well attuned to the regional sentiment and aspirations of the state. The idea is also to contrast the party with the BJP, which Rahul accused of trying to run roughshod on Tamil people.
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The visit also places Rahul at the forefront of the Congress campaign in the state and also makes it clear that he will be the main decision maker when it comes to finetuning the party's strategy as also the seat-sharing discussions with the DMK. Rahul's excellent rapport with DMK president M.K. Stalin is seen by the state unit as an important factor in the elections. The Congress leader was accompanied by DMK youth wing secretary Udayanidhi Stalin on the dais as he witnessed the Jallikattu event.
The visit also came in the midst of the continuing uncertainty with regard to the question of whether Rahul is ready to make a comeback as Congress president. His decision to fly to Milan just a day before the 136th foundation day function of the party was seen as an indication that he was not ready to take over the reins of the party in the present circumstances. However, more recently, there is a buzz in the party that he has relented on the leadership question. In this backdrop, his pre-eminence in the electoral mission of the party is likely to be seen as a sign.