India’s punditocracy in recent weeks has loved to hate Rahul Gandhi.
Mr. Gandhi, the vice president of India’s opposition Congress party, was derided by some opinion-makers for taking a break from frontline politics in mid-February–and not returning until mid-April. But on Monday, in a speech before Parliament, Mr. Gandhi surprised many pundits.
Not by what he said — he attacked, as expected, the government’s proposed changes to India’s laws on purchasing land — but by the fact that he spoke at all.
Mr. Gandhi, who is a member of Parliament, rarely speaks in India’s lower chamber, the Lok Sabha. In fact, this was only his first address since Congress lost badly in national elections almost a year ago.
Congress’s loss provoked deep soul-searching within the party about its future. Mr. Gandhi was Congress’s prime ministerial hopeful in that drubbing.
On Monday, Mr. Gandhi blasted India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his Bharatiya Janata Party, for proposed changes to the Land Acquisition Act that, among other things would make it easier for businesses and the government to buy land for defense, industrial corridors, affordable housing and infrastructure projects by removing a requirement to obtain the consent of more than two-thirds of landowners.
Mr. Gandhi’s Congress party argues these changes are bad for India’s huge population of farmers, who he described in Parliament as the country’s backbone. “Everything has been built on a foundation that has been provided to us by the farmer,” Mr. Gandhi told lawmakers.
Pictures of Mr. Gandhi, dressed in a close-fitting white kurta and flanked by some of the party’s youngest members of Parliament, filled television screens and set his name trending on Twitter on Monday evening.
It also put the ruling BJP on the defensive after months of relatively limited challenges from the Congress party. A piece in the Indian Express newspaper said the government was pushed into “damage control after Rahul Gandhi’s attack over the agrarian situation.”
Sanjay Singh, who writes about politics for Firstpost, wrote that Mr. Gandhi’s “rather aggressive pitching in Parliament has surely charged up Congress’ ranks.”
Another piece, posted on the IBNLive website of the Indian news channel CNN-IBN, said Mr. Gandhi had shown “he is back and he means business.”
“Maybe it is the low expectations,” the IBNLive piece said, “but Rahul Gandhi was definitely on fire.” The article was published with no byline.