In politics, a single moment, an inadvertent off-the-cuff comment can be the difference between winning and losing. Sometimes it may even cost you an entire election. Ask Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney. Hillary’s ‘deplorables’ remark in 2016, Romney’s jibe that 47% don’t pay income tax and he wouldn’t be responsible for them in 2012 galvanised a whole voting block against them, and brought about their eventual downfall. Closer home, Mohan Bhagwat too faced similar brunt when his comment about reservations became a full-blown political controversy, leading to the then Mahagatbandhan (the alliance formed by the JD(U) and the RJD) sweeping Bihar elections against a formidable BJP. Many political pundits would have believed Mani Shankar Aiyar’s jibe about PM Modi being a ‘neech aadmi’ to have similar effect. Well, PM Modi certainly thought so. Merely an hour after Aiyar accused Modi of being a low-life, PM lashed out at him in a rally at Surat. He pitched it as a class battle with entitled educated Aiyar picking on a person coming from humble background to reach the very top of public life. Essentially it was a chaiwallah jibe redux, with PM Modi again playing on a sense of victimhood aided by Aiyar’s incredibly caste-deaf, classist comment. And here’s where Rahul Gandhi’s intervention was important from Congress point of view. He was prompt in condemning Aiyar on Twitter asking him to apologise. On the other hand, he mentioned that BJP and PM are frequent offenders of name calling, essentially trying to discriminate between the two parties. When Aiyar refused to issue a blanket apology, instead of taking umbrage in not knowing Hindi properly, he got the guillotine. In a rare instant, certainly in Indian politics, a senior politician was virtually shown the door for an intemperate comment in a matter of few hours. By this Rahul Gandhi has achieved two things. Firstly, he has managed to draw a clear line of sand, that abuse will not be accepted by him. And no matter who the person is, violating the norm would lead to sanctions. It did not matter the politician in this case was someone handpicked Rahul Gandhi’s father Rajiv as a bright young talent during his tenure as PM. A leader can’t be guided by emotions and Rahul showed his ruthless streak on Thursday. Also read’Chaiwala’ redux! Mani Shankar Aiyar scores ‘neech’ self-goalDuring the Gujarat campaign, Rahul in a workshop with Congress’ social media team in Ahmedabad had mentioned the no-abuse policy. The fact that he could walk the talk when needed was certainly a welcome change in Indian politics, where hypocrisy rules the roost. Secondly, Rahul hopes to have blunted BJP making this a full blown issue in the run-up to the second phase and on social media even before the first phase. The saffron party may still manage to do so, with their sophisticated communication machinery but Congress can’t be accused of simply acting like a bystander. Irrespective of the final result and impact of Mani Shankar Aiyar’s ill-timed jibe, Thursday’s intervention from Rahul Gandhi shows Congress is clearly in a reboot mode. @OfficeofRG got ample amount of sass few months back after making a clean break from boring press release-like tweets. It even introduced Pidi to the world, resulting in innumerable memes and jokes. But the real test was always going to be handling a crisis situation. And judging by the alacrity of action both online and offline, Rahul Gandhi has passed this test. Also readGujarat Elections 2017: PM Modi’s retort to Aiyar’s lowly jibe caps off campaign for Phase 1Now, compare it with the past. PM Modi went to the town seeking mileage from Aiyar’s chaiwallah jibe during 2014 and there was no counter of Congress. Similarly the party looked weak and listless while trying to defend several graft allegations in the past. The messaging lead by Rahul Gandhi is certainly better and prompt now. But will it matter finally? In this election season, we have seen controversies with youth Congress tweeting defamatory cartoons, Aiyar virtually equating the Gandhi family with the Moghuls and now this latest faux-pas. This alongside the controversy whether Rahul Gandhi is a Hindu or not has sort of managed to divert the focus away from the most important issues in the elections. That works well for BJP which is fighting anti-incumbency, discontent of the Patidars and backlash from twin effects of GST and demonetization. The Congress self-goal has definitely helped BJP to find a new gear in the closing phase of the marathon election campaign. Also readPeople see through this game: Arun Jaitley on Mani Shankar Aiyar’s suspension from CongressHowever, irrespective of the result it can be said that Congress has new a spring in its step. And the credit goes majorly to Rahul Gandhi. He has a Herculean task to reorganise the grand old party so that it can match BJP in every step. But for now, it seems to have finally got hang of the online game and its impact on real politic. That’s probably is the biggest takeaway from Thursday’s Mani Shankar error.
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Mani Shankar Aiyar’s ‘Neech Aadmi’ comment: Has Rahul Gandhi’s timely intervention saved the day for Congress?