Was Rahul Gandhi detained in Boston with drugs? Did he actually speak about a machine that would turn potatoes into gold or a potato-manufacturing factory?
Why did he claim that connecting MRI machines would improve healthcare in India? Why did his “woke up this morning, last night” go viral? The biggest question of them all: What is the truth about the Sukanya rape case?
For far too long, not only his political rivals, but some within the Congress as well, have lampooned Congress president Rahul Gandhi as a ‘pappu’, or someone who does not have his wits about.
Gandhi has also faced a subversive campaign that authorities in Boston had detained him with psychotropic substances and the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government bailed him out, or about him having allegedly raped a woman. The smear campaign has had little factual basis, but the Congress party has never launched a concerted campaign to counter this sustained rumour mongering.
However, much is changing within the Congress. The party now plans to launch a page on FAQs, or frequently asked questions, section to "bust myths" and rumours surrounding their party chief. The page, ‘Myth Buster’, is part of an already existing website dedicated to their party chief – rahulgandhi.in.
The page has been in the works for some months now, but there were those in the party who wanted to be cautious before putting it in the public domain. It has had its soft launch in the past, but was withdrawn. The Congress’s improved electoral performances in the recent past has enthused the party, and the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls have made it feel the need to burnish Gandhi’s credentials.
As recent Assembly polls showed, public perception about Gandhi has changed significantly in the past 18-months, at least since the Gujarat Assembly polls.
People in small towns and villages have come to believe he is committed about flagging their issues, whether on lack of jobs or agrarian distress.
However, the Congress party has realised its challenge is to dispel the misgivings that educated youth, particularly those below 30-years-old, harbour against the Congress chief, particularly in the Hindi heartland, because of years of ridicule and subterranean campaign by his political rivals, and helped in some measure by people within his own party.
The ‘Busting Myths’ page on rahulgandhi.in begins with a well-known saying, at times attributed to Mark Twain, how “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on.”
“Here, for your entertainment, are some of the craziest tales spun by the opposition’s propaganda factory. And the truth,” it states.
First the more sensational of the propaganda. “Was Rahul Gandhi detained in Boston with drugs?” The website states: “No. Those sharing these fantasies, without offering even a shred of evidence, are obviously smoking something strong.”
“What is the truth about the Sukanya rape case?” The website states: “The charge was cooked up by political opponents and peddled on foreign websites, was struck down by the Supreme Court of India for being “without substance and without an iota of evidence”.
It states that the “court heavily fined the petitioners for causing reputational damage to Rahul Gandhi. Half of that penalty was due to Rahul Gandhi, and half to the woman who they claimed had been raped.” “That this malicious lie continues to lurk in a right-wing echo-chamber shows that some people are impervious to the truth and contemptuous of due legal process. They will go to any length to discredit someone they don’t like,” it states.
There are also videos and explanations to counter the myth that Gandhi spoke about a “potato manufacturing factory”, when he was replying to a question from a farmer who had suggested a potato chips manufacturing factory. Gandhi’s “aloo se sona niklega” claim was the Congress leader making fun of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “outrageous promises”, the website states. “Farmers’ concerns and agricultural policy are clearly not as ‘viral’ as a sentence plucked out of context by an opposition more comfortable with jeering than thinking,” the website remonstrates.
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It also puts up a defence, pointing at academic research, to explains Gandhi's remarks that "poverty is a state of mind", or dalits needing "escape velocity of Jupiter".
As to why Gandhi said he “woke up this morning, last night”, the website concedes, “to err is human, and to mock is the BJP.” It states how this “was a slip of the tongue”, which “happens to everyone, especially those whose words are constantly watched.”
“This list (of myths/lies) is likely to keep growing. Lies will continue being generated, because the only limits are in the BJP’s imagination. Some of these allegations, though, are more serious and unconscionable than others…” and points out the rape allegation and the drug detention.
But as Gandhi himself would concede, some of his remarks, like the escape velocity of Jupiter, while well intended, were difficult to comprehend when uttered in a public meeting. Gandhi, as people close to him, has become a better speaker, primarily as he has learnt the art of putting across complex ideas in simple language, and has made his team work extra hard to come up with slogans that are easier to understand for the public at large. His 'Gabbar Singh Tax', to explain goods and services tax, is one such example.