‘Pappu’ passes with distinction: A year after assuming Congress’ presidency, Rahul Gandhi stalls BJP’s victory run

New Delhi: The Congress president Rahul Gandhi had been played down on numerous occasions based on a perception created around a word i.e “Pappu”. Google search the term and you will see all the stories related to Rahul Gandhi.

But, the mega-election result on Tuesday – when Congress made an overwhelming comeback by winning the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. And it is back in the region where it was most deeply vulnerable.

It seems that Congress has to some extent figured out the pattern which connects Hindi heartland to any of the political institution. In the Grand old party’s new escapade, Rahul Gandhi has emerged as a force to reckon with.

From “Pappu” to the aggressive campaigner

Rahul Gandhi got it right — not because he won the election on his own steam but because a leader has to take the right decisions. He took the right decisions in Madhya Pradesh. The state president was the old, but the resourceful, Kamal Nath who knew how to rev up an organisation. Jyotiraditya Scindia was the most popular of all leaders across regions and demographics. Digvijay Singh knew the state organisation inside out but was kept in the background because of his perceived public unpopularity. In Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot was most popular. Sachin Pilot worked hard, and rebuilt the organisation. In Chhattisgarh, TS Singh Deo, as the Thakur leader and leader of opposition, and Tamardhwaj Sahu and Bhupesh Bagel, as the key swingers of the crucial Other Backward Classes vote, were empowered. Gandhi picked no chief ministerial candidate, although he will have to do so now (but everyone worked hard believing that they had a chance). But in a loose organisational setup, to manage leadership, and reconcile factions, is testament to Gandhi’s underestimated management skills. Once he had figured leadership, he led from the front with an aggressive and energetic campaign.

How was Rahul associated with “Pappu”?

A little background: Back in 2007, at its plenary session in Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium, the Congress showcased Rahul Gandhi as its face of future. Unlike his father Rajiv Gandhi’s speech on the centenary of the Congress, Rahul’s speech was abstract. For example: “What, after all, is poverty,” Rahul Gandhi asked a delegation of about 3000 Congress workers before answering, “A poor person is one who is denied the opportunity to become rich.”

How Bollywood and ads played a role: The same year, a movie Pappu Pass Ho Gaya was released, following a two-year-old TV advertisement for a chocolate brand. In 2008, another Bollywood movie had a chartbuster song, Pappu Can’t Dance Sala.

Delhi went to polls in 2008 and the Delhi Election Commission (DEC) ran an ad-campaign, Pappu Can’t Vote. The DEC decided to rerun the same ad-campaign for 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

Congress was not far behind: During the same time, senior Congress leaders blamed slow decision making on Rahul Gandhi’s activism. They even went on to say Rahul Gandhi was a ‘parti-time’ politician. In July 2012, Digvijay Singh – then considered as Rahul Gandhi’s mentor – said, “He (Rahul) has been confining himself to student politics and youth politics. He should come into the mainstream of Congress party.” Little did they know, that comments like this would establish RaGa as an unwilling politician and eventually lead to him being branded as Pappu.

In 2013, Rahul was officially called Pappu for the first time. He addressed the Confederation of Indian Industries on April 3, 2013, in New Delhi. That day, the top trending topic on Twitter in India was #PappuCII.

In 2013, during an election campaign for 2014 polls, BJP national president Amit Shah referred to Rahul Gandhi as Pappu in his speech. He said, “The Congress thinks the prime minister’s chair is Pappu’s birthright. But this is a democracy, you need people’s blessings, and people’s blessings are with Narendra Modi. We have declared our PM candidate (Narendra Modi). Who will be the Congress candidate? Pappu? No, they won’t make Pappu their candidate as they are afraid of losing.”

After losing the 2014 polls, top Congress leadership blamed it on Rahul. Former Congress MP Late Gufran Azam from Madhya Pradesh wrote a letter to the then party president Sonia Gandhi in July 2014. “All parents want their child to become a doctor or engineer. But some wishes never get fulfilled because the child is unfit. Parents simply cannot force them to be successful. You (Sonia Gandhi) wished to make him (Rahul) a leader and got 10 years for it. But you failed to make him a leader. You failed to make him learn how to deliver a speech. He failed to acquire political acumen. He remains the same. We are tired of hearing people address him as ‘Pappu’ and ‘Munna’. We feel ashamed,” he wrote.

Who used it first?: It is not clear who used the word Pappu first to mock Rahul Gandhi. Some have attributed it to AAP leader Kumar Vishwas, while others have attributed the remark to self-styled godman and rape accused Asaram, who reportedly mocked Rahul Gandhi as Pappu at a public rally around 2012-13. But some also say the term originated in the old guard of the Congress leadership, some of whom had once welcomed Sonia Gandhi in 1998-99 as “Gudiya”.

Congress embraces Pappu: In 2016, in an interview with Barkha Dutt in Varanasi, one Congress worker commenting on people taking a jibe at Gandhi with the Pappu-fail-ho-gaya line of attack said, “Main aaj aapko vaada karta hun, vishwaas dilata hun, aaj Pappu fail nahin hai. Aaj humaare Pappu…jo humaare Rahul Gandhi ji hain…woh aaj fail nahin hai…Pappu aaj paas hoga.” (I promise you Pappu has not failed. Our Pappu, who is Rahul Gandhi Ji, he has not failed. Pappu will pass today.)

To which Dutt asked, “Pappu, paas kaisa hua?” (How has Pappu passed?) This lead to a quick conversation where Pappu’s prospects are debated and whether he will indeed pass or fail.

When Rahul hugged his inner ‘Pappu’: During the monsoon session, on July 20, Rahul said he didn’t mind if he was called Pappu, but his party would like to believe that he is over with that image. He almost proved that he was no more a Pappu when he gave a powerful speech in the Parliament and hugged PM Narendra Modi but what gave him away was the wink. Need we explain this anymore.