Caught Between SRK & Gabbar, RaGa Spins Magic Realist Song in Raebareli
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi with sister Priyanka during a rally in Raebareli on Friday. (PTI)
Raebareli (UP): At Raebareli, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi along with his sister Priyanka makes a grand appearance, after alighting from a chopper that has carried him all the way from Fursatganj. Their entry is lustily cheered by loud, unruly and raucous crowds, and on the stage that is burdened with the combined weight of the assemblage of local Congress grandees, the brother-sister duo is showered with shawls and bouquets by one local leader after another who waste no time in extolling the shining virtues of the Gandhi family.
In Raebareli, this is par for the course because the grimy town has been a Gandhi pocket borough for many years — its dimming torch held aloft by two generations of Gandhi family.
But elections in 2019 are more than two years away and only Priyanka — who, after accepting all the gifts, sits quietly on the dais, perhaps not to steal her brother's thunder — knows what's on her mind.
FULL COVERAGE: Assembly Elections 2017
As Rahul starts speaking, after monotonous leader-championing droning by his local chieftains, the focus returns to 2017 and the current Assembly elections, which the Grand Old Party is fighting in alliance with Samajwadi Party, whose baton too has just been passed on — or snatched away, as some say — to Netaji's son. So, two young scions, trying hard to establish their suzerainty, are battling the BJP led by the strong and muscular combination of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
Dilwale! Sholay! Shah Rukh! Gabbar! Is this an impromptu class in India's cinema history? Or is Rahul impressed by his partner Akhilesh's plans to open an FTII-style institute in Lucknow?
The GIC ground in Raebareli looks somewhat like a replica of Jallianwala Bagh, enclosed on three sides by cheek-by-jowl buildings on whose uncemented rooftops people, all agog and in huge numbers, stand listening to what the young leader has to say about their future.
"Shah Rukh," thunders a hoarse Rahul, "has turned Gabbar." DDLJ, which came more than two decades ago, sold dreams and a different zeitgeist to Indians who were used to a gloomier, depressing environment. India had just opened up its economy in 1991 and the country was flush with hope and excitement. DDLJ, with rich, middle-class, frolicking, carefree couples falling in love in the cool environs of the Alps, tapped into that sentiment and celebrated India's new go-get-it enterprise.
Standing atop blistered, scaly and sooty buildings, the people of Raebareli perhaps wanted a different vision for themselves. Something soothing but less magical and more real. They were disappointed and started heading out of the venue in large numbers.
That demonetisation, as Rahul kept railing against it, is an economic step that cannot be reduced to filmy tropes of Shah Rukh-Gabbar. People who have suffered because of it should know what the new government is planning to counter its ill-effects. Or how the hapless farmers, who bore its brunt, took it on the chin and are trying to get on with their lives. What concrete steps the national opposition is taking to publicise the adversity faced by the farmers.
Rahul finishes his speech by thanking everyone and moves on to his next destination, flying with his sister in his whirlybird. The sense of hopelessness and dejection has not lifted at all.
At Suyash restaurant, on the road to Allahabad, where some rally-goers have descended for snacks after waiting to listen to the Congress neta, a new song from a new Shah Rukh film is playing. The female singer keeps repeating in her punchy voice: Just go to hell. One shudders to wonder if that isn't the feeling most downhearted rally-goers carry along with themselves as the head out of these low-spirited, joyless venues.
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