New Delhi: The 134th foundation day of the Congress on Friday will be noted for a small act which may seem innocuous, but is loaded with significance.
As controversy raged over the movie The Accidental Prime Minister, which is based on the tenure of Dr Manmohan Singh at 7, Race Course Road as it was then called, Rahul Gandhi cut the cake with the former prime minister.
The cake-cutting reinforced the message that Rahul Gandhi has immense regard for Dr Singh and did not think he was a rubber stamp as the movie tried to project.
A senior Congress leader close to both Rahul and Manmohan told News18 that “it’s like any father-son relationship. Reverence and defiance at times”.
There was one act of defiance by Rahul Gandhi which had raised questions over his maturity as a politician and definitely gave a handle to his opponents for having belittled the PM while he was abroad. This was in 2013 when Rahul was Congress general secretary and new to politics. Dr Singh was in the US and at a press meeting in Delhi, Rahul shocked observers by saying that if it were upto him, he would have torn up an ordinance cleared by the Manmohan Singh cabinet which “shielded” politicians with criminal backgrounds.
Coming as it did just before the elections, the statement gave rise to theories that Rahul Gandhi did not approve of the PM’s style. This assumption, however, may not be entirely true. Then Congress president Sonia Gandhi was quick to point the mistake to son Rahul. When Dr Singh returned from the US, Rahul was quick to meet him and reach out. It was the beginning of a new relationship. Rahul, like most in his family who have a trust deficit with others, realised that Dr Singh was the one person who could be completely trusted, and respected.
As Sonia made it clear to the party and her son that she was in the mood to take a backseat, Rahul realised time had come to take charge.
The new chemistry between Rahul and Dr Singh was on display in Jaipur in 2013. Rahul was made vice-president of the party and even before Sonia, it was the PM who walked up to Rrahul to hug him.
If there is one thing that Sonia insisted on, it was that Rahul should give Dr Singh the same respect that she gave him. A great stickler for protocol, Sonia would never leave a room till Dr Singh left. Rahul has followed this, which explains why he cut the cake with Dr Singh on Friday. In fact, when Rahul became party president, he met Dr Singh first to seek his blessings.
Today as Rahul sharpens his attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi over economic policies such as demonetisation and GST implementation, he draws his inputs from Dr Singh. Sources say that before Rahul promised farm loan waivers in recent Assembly elections, he met the former PM to get the economics of it right. Dr Singh remains his go-to man for all economic and governance issues.
But when controversies break out, as they have over the film based on Sanjay Baru’s book, it’s an awkward moment for Rahul. It brings back memories of the ordinance Rahul erupted over. In private, Rahul is believed to have admitted that it was a huge mistake. It was Rahul’s decision that the Congress should ignore the movie. The least Rahul can do for the man he turns to is to ensure that Dr Singh doesn’t become the shoulder from which the BJP fires its salvo at the Congress.
Sources say Rahul was keen that the foundation day cake must be cut with Dr Singh. This was in recognition of the man who has been called ‘weak’, but whom Rahul sees as his benchmark; who, as those close to him say, he will always turn to as he would have if his father Rajiv Gandhi were still alive.