Many political leaders have to overcome the hesitations of history to succeed. Rahul Gandhi not only had to do that but also overcome hesitations about his ancestry. Particularly being born into a great political family and the expectations arising from it. In the early stages of his political career, there,Many political leaders have to overcome the hesitations of history to succeed. Rahul Gandhi not only had to do that but also overcome hesitations about his ancestry. Particularly being born into a great political family and the expectations arising from it. In the early stages of his political career, there were attempts to thrust greatness on him. When those floundered, it made him even more hesitant and cautious. His ancestry would become his albatross. The true evolution of Rahul Gandhi began when he realised that power doesn’t easily beget power. Dynasts may inherit capital from their lineagewhether in name, reputation, aura or a sycophantic party machine. But if Rahul had to achieve the greatness that some of his forebears did, it was clear to him that he would have to earn his place in history the hard way. The Naamdaar (Dynast) had to become a Kaamdaar (a working man). A promise of NYAY: Rahul Gandhi addressing a rally in Saipau, Rajasthan, on April 29. (Photo: Vikram Sharma/India Today)That realisation has transformed Rahul’s personality from an impetuous, impatient and imprudent scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family into an intense, incisive and intrepid leader of the Grand Old Party. In an exhaustive interview to India Today on April 29, aboard his chartered Falcon jet, Rahul angrily brushed aside Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Naamdaar’ taunts stating, That’s simplistic. Members of my family have been in politics, but their experience is not my experience. My experience has been of tremendous battles and violence. I’ve seen my father and grandmother get killed, I have seen elections being won and lost. How can you encapsulate my entire experience in one word? Understand me and judge me for what I am and what I do.advertisementIronically, it was his bête noire Modi, who generated a wave in 2014 that saw the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) capture an astounding majority in Parliament and reduce the Congress to its lowest ever tally of 44 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha. Rahul termed the humiliating defeat the perfect storm, which created the environment for a brutal introspection of the way the party functioned and the mistakes they had made in government in the last years of UPA-II, something he admits in the interview. That was the crucible that shaped and moulded his political philosophy as did the intense Vipassana sessions he attended to understand his inner self. With new clarity and determination, a reborn Rahul began rebuilding the Congress into a formidable challenger to Modi and the BJP. He gained respect and his plan gained momentum after he took over as Congress president in 2017 and the party ousted the BJP from the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in assembly elections held last year.Election 2019, though, will be the real test of the battle plan that Rahul has charted to stage an audacious comeback for the Congress in the national reckoning. It is, in many ways, a do-or-die battle for the party. Rahul is aware that if the Congress does as badly as it did in 2014, it is finito not just for the party but also for the Nehru-Gandhi family. (For the record, 2019 marks a hundred years since his great-great-grandfather Motilal Nehru took over as Congress president.) If a strong Modi returns, the BJP is bound to work towards destabilising the tenuous gains the Congress has made in the states where the party has wrested back power. Also, a second Modi government is likely to pursue the legal cases against Rahul and his family members with renewed vigour to discredit them. Though Rahul is unwilling to speculate about a Congress victory in his interview (see We’ll unlock the power of all Indians and create millions of jobs’, p. 26), he is determined to see Modi and the BJP defeated this election. I’m not seeing anything else, he says in his interview. Like Arjun, I’m seeing only the eye of the fish, and I’m going to hit that eye.Rahul has ensured he and the Congress remain the main challengers to Modi and the BJP. He also has an eye on alliances to use the numbers against the BJPThe use of metaphors steeped in Hindu mythology is one of the many arrows Rahul has in his quiver to craft a strategy to counter the relentless pounding of the BJP. The Congress party had, after the defeat in 2014, realised that it needed to shed its pro-Muslim image and woo the much larger Hindu vote bank. The first step to challenge the BJP in 2019 came in the shape of a physically challenging trek to Kedarnath temple in the summer of 2015. Rahul then declared himself a janeudhari Shiv bhakt Brahmin of the Dattatreya gotra. Even as he stepped up his temple runs, the Congress scion set out on a Bharat Yatrafrom the sabzi mandi of Punjab to the fishermen of Kerala, travelling by train and flying Economy. Every yatra had an underlying messageif Modi represented the suit-boot ki sarkar (a term he coined), Rahul was the messiah of the poor, at times even sporting a torn kurta. Among the biggest transformations was his determined dive into social media where Modi and the BJP were already the big fish. Rahul then used it to give the BJP as good as he got. So Gabbar Singh Tax’ and Mr 56 inch’ and his latest, Chowkidar chor hai’, replaced Jupiter’s escape velocity’ and power is poison’ tweets.advertisementLearning from past mistakes, Rahul also changed the way he ran the party when he took over as its president. No more was he surrounded by just the foreign-educated, number-crunching youth brigade, who were bright but lacked the killer instinct and political guile. The old guard of Ahmed Patel and Ashok Gehlot became his sounding boards for most decisions. After victories in MP and Rajasthan, there was a widespread expectation that he would induct younger leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot as chief ministers. Instead, he fell back on party veterans Kamal Nath and Gehlot. Explaining his reason, he says in the interview, There are a large number of senior leaders who have spent a tremendous amount of time, made sacrifices for the party and have great wisdom and experience. And there are some extremely talented youngsters with tremendous energy and potential. I took the decision to deploy wisdom first and, after some time, deploy the energy of the young. Old guard and new: Flanked by Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot.For Election 2019, as Rahul reveals in his interview, Congress has a clear game plan. It has a two-pronged strategy. One is to position the Congress and himself as the prime challengers to the BJP and Modi by presenting an alternative vision of governing India. So, if the BJP is projecting itself as the champion of nationalism and defender of India’s security after Balakot, Rahul has positioned the Congress as the Great Unifier and charged Modi with indulging in divisive politics. As he puts it, I see India as a beautiful compromise. With our collective wisdom and with our conversations, we can do very powerful things that other countries can’t do. Congress then released a cogent manifesto that addressed all the key issues facing the country, whether it is the lack of jobs or the mounting agrarian distress. It also came up with a possible game-changer: NYAY, or a minimum guaranteed income of Rs 72,000 a year for the bottom 20 per cent of poor households. Dismissing criticism of flirting with fiscal profligacy to win an election, Rahul says, NYAY is two things. It is helping poor people break the shackles of poverty but, just as importantly, it is about remonetising the Indian economyjump-starting the economic engine that has stalled because of demonetisation and a poorly executed Goods & Services Tax (GST). This money is not going to come from the middle class. That is my guarantee.advertisementThe other strategy is to build or retain strategic alliances with parties to use the arithmetic of numbers to topple the BJP. Rahul has been careful to ensure that his party remains the BJP’s prime challenger, contesting as many as 423 seats on its own. When the Congress did not enter alliances with parties in two critical statesUttar Pradesh and West Bengalit created the impression that Rahul was looking ahead to build the party for 2024 and was unsure of the opposition making a dent in 2019. But the Congress president denies that he is uncertain of his party’s prospects. He points out that the Congress has struck robust seat-sharing arrangements with parties in Maharashtra, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. What about UP and West Bengal? Rahul’s answer: Is Mamata Banerjee going to support the BJP government or a secular one? Are Mayawatiji and Mulayamji going to support the BJP or a secular government? Any way you look at it, the BJP is going to be defeated by secular parties everywhere in the country. He reveals that even while he inducted his sister Priyanka Gandhi and Scindia to take charge of UP, he told them the primary objective was to defeat the BJP.Rahul seems combative and energised by the challenges ahead. He is a fitness freak (he is passionate about running), and when asked what advice he would give those who wanted to stay trim, he says, Persistence. Sometimes I teach my friends how to run, and they say, I can’t run 5 kilometres. And I say, don’t be crazy, you can’t run 5 km right now, but you can run 5 km if you’re persistent. We’ll get you to 5 km, to 10 km, to 20 km, to 200 km! But don’t start with the idea that you can’t do it. You can. All it takes is persistence. Then, he added: It applies in everyday life too. Everyone told me Mr Narendra Modi can’t be defeated. I said, Yeah, you really think so?’ I asked, Tell me what Mr Narendra Modi’s strength is.’ They said, His strength is his [incorruptible] image.’ I said, Okay, I’m going to rip that strength to pieces. I’m going to take it and shred it.’ And I’ve done it. Persistence, my friend! Keep going, keep going, keep going. And I will keep going until the truth on Rafale is out! Come May 23, when the votes are counted, the 900 million-strong electorate will tell us whether Rahul’s persistence has paid off or he will still have to keep going, keep going, keep going.