Congress President Rahul Gandhi speaks at a panel discussion at International Institute for Strategic Studies in London on Friday. (INC Twitter via PTI) 

Is Rahul Gandhi Hitting The Right Note In His Europe Tour?

It was meant to be a speech on India’s economy and foreign policy, but Rahul Gandhi converted it into an electoral pitch for the second consecutive day.

A day after he lashed out at the BJP in Germany for “excluding large sections of the population”, Gandhi did an encore on Thursday at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. Only this time the target was the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government.

The Congress President, who is on a four-day visit to Germany and the U.K., criticised the government on a range of issues—from demonetisation to the border dispute with China at Doklam. The topic of conversation, however, was titled “India’s economic growth and foreign policy in an uncertain world”.

Gandhi also trained his guns on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—considered the ideological parent of the BJP—by likening it to the “Muslim brotherhood of the Arab world”.

RSS is trying to change the nature of India. Other parties haven’t tried to capture India’s institutions (as the RSS has).
Rahul Gandhi - International Institute of Strategic Studies Interaction

On Saturday he seemingly addressed a broader range of issues at an interaction at the London School of Economics. Speaking on caste-based divides Gandhi said “I used to think that simply improving the economic position of a person, transforming India economically, will result in a reduction of caste thinking. I don't hold that view any more. It won't”.

But then soon after criticised the Modi government for neglecting the agriculture sector.

Do you actually believe that Indian agriculture supports India, builds India, projects Indian power? Or do you believe that Indian agriculture is a drain? The current government believes that agriculture can be replaced. They say, ‘if our farmer can’t grow the wheat we can buy the wheat from elsewhere’.
Rahul Gandhi - LSE Interaction

Political journalist Krishna Prasad said that events like these help overturn the perception that Gandhi is a “bumbling buffoon”, giving him the image of a leader who can field questions on a range of issues. Prasad said this in a BloombergQuint debate.

The fact is he can sit in front of huge audiences, speak impromptu and deliver clean and cogent sentences on a variety of issues.
Krishna Prasad, Political Journalist

Also read: Chances Of Modi Being Re-Elected Now Only 50%, Says Ruchir Sharma 

But Walter Ladwig, senior lecturer at Kings College, London, disagreed. Ladwig, who attended the interaction with Gandhi and quizzed him on the paucity of diplomats in India, said “If he does have a clear alternative, I’m afraid it didn’t come across.”

“He was asked specific questions on India’s economic and foreign policy,” said Ladwig. “I found the answers underwhelming.”

Quite frankly, the answers were often underwhelming and people didn’t get the level of detail they were looking for.
Walter Ladwig, Senior Lecturer In International Relations, Kings College, London

While Gandhi offered broad stroke answers to questions on India’s ties with Pakistan and Russia, he spared no opportunity to score political points, claiming that Prime Minister Narendra Modi implemented demonetisation—in which over 85 percent of India’s currency comprising Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes was outlawed—without the knowledge of the Finance Ministry.

R Jagannathan, editorial director at Swarajya Magazine noted that “Gandhi has probably been successful in getting under the skin of the BJP and the Prime Minister’s office”.

Rahul Gandhi is getting the audience and attention required, whether that will work with the electorate is a separate issue.
R Jagannathan, Editorial Director, Swarajya

The attention, though, hasn’t always been positive. This photo montage posted by his party on social media was mocked by many.

Watch the full debate here...