Rahul Gandhi: Mixed reactions to comeback speech

Indian National Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi addresses the gathering at farmers rally at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi, India, 19 April 2015. T Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Gandhi returned from a leave of absence last week

There have been mixed reactions in the Indian media to main opposition Congress party Vice President Rahul Gandhi's comeback speech after a leave of absence of nearly two months.

Mr Gandhi spoke at a meeting of farmers in the capital, Delhi, on Sunday to protest against the government's controversial land acquisition bill.

Last December, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP government passed an executive order to make it easier to buy farmland for industrial use and development projects.

Mr Gandhi told the meeting that Mr Modi was a "friend" of big capitalists and that he would fight attempts by the government to forcibly acquire farmland.

"Whatever we did was for the weak and poor," he said.

'Blistering attack'

The Indian Express said Mr Gandhi had "returned to the stage on Sunday with an old narrative and an older theme".

Mr Gandhi has spoken in the past about his support for farmers, importance of food security, and his efforts at stopping forcible land acquisition.

"He was aggressive, topical and attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly. But if the "leave of absence" was to think of a new way ahead post electoral drubbing, he didn't offer any to the massive crowd that the Congress had managed to gather," the paper said.

"Rahul tears into Modi's land bill", headlined Hindustan Times.

The newspaper said a "combative Mr Gandhi had returned to the political centrestage on Sunday with a blistering attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi...".

It said the the farmers' rally was "billed as a comeback platform for the 44-year-old who is expected to take charge of the party in the future despite dissent from some senior leaders".

But another article in the newspaper said that "one expected Rahul to return from the sabbatical to recognise and respond to aspirational India, which abandoned the party in 2014 [at the general elections].

Mr Gandhi led his party to its worst performance in May's general election.

The Times of India said Mr Gandhi's speech suggested that the "standoff with the government [over the land bill] could escalate with Rahul at the forefront, as much to lead the party charge as to quell criticism about his lack of consistency".

"Politics is a blood sport and not a hobby or indulgence. Modi takes no sabbaticals. Even when he is abroad on official business, he believes in fighting his party's opponents," analyst Siddharth Varadarajan wrote in the NDTV news site.

"The coming parliamentary session [which began on Monday] will be a test of how serious the Congress heir apparent is about embracing the burdens of leadership."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Farmers protested against a land acquisition bill

Analyst Ashok Malik wrote Mr Gandhi's comeback rally had posed more questions than answers.

"In some senses, Rahul seems not to have recovered from the defeat of 2014. Listening to him, there was this inescapable feeling that he was in a time warp," Mr Malik wrote on the NDTV news website.

"It was not helped by the fact that he referred repeatedly to his experience of visiting drought-hit farmers some years ago. The crowd he was addressing was of north Indian farmers worried by a spell of unseasonal rain that has damaged a crop ripe for harvesting."

Firstpost said that while Mr Gandhi was "high on rhetoric and sharp in criticism against Modi, he did not do much to boost the morale of the gathered party leaders and workers".

"There was no road map to rejuvenate the Congress, which is suffering from its worst ever crisis. He didn't utter a word about his leave of absence."

Mr Gandhi took leave on 23 February because he wanted time to think, his party said.

The decision came days after his party failed to win a single seat in state polls in Delhi. Party officials had said he wanted to assess his role and the party's future.

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