NEW DELHI: Well, whether the BJP top brass wanted to or not, the shift in ground situation compelled it to drop the prefix “Pappu” that it had used with gusto and glee for several years now. That is has disappeared from use has gone unnoticed almost, with just the political hawks commenting on the new respect that the Congress President seems to have earned.

Since? And the consensus is clearly: Gujarat. After a strong electoral fight where a non-existent Congress seemed to have come into its own under the direct leadership of Rahul Gandhi and his handpicked team, there is new respect in BJP and indeed Congress eyes for the man both had dismissed as a ‘shazada’ or the as derogatory ‘pappu.’ In fact now that the old Congress guard is being pushed around more than a little by the new party president, the respect is growing as Congressmen since the Emergency do like a glimpse of the whip every now and again.

The decision to go ahead with the impeachment notice against the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra is seen as Rahul Gandhi’s entirely. In fact his handling of this issue within the party, where several leaders were resistant, is an indication of how he is working to bring about a generational change in the Congress that has little to do with age but more to do with mentality.

Rahul Gandhi was supportive of the impeachment proposal when it was initiated by other political parties after the four Supreme Court judges went public with their concerns and worries about the functioning of the apex court. The move was stalled by a clearly reluctant Congress party where the old guard asserted itself to a point where it was able to persuade Sonia Gandhi about the ‘wisdom’ of restraint. The move was revived a few weeks ago, with the Congress MPs directed to sign the notice as it went across the Opposition board. It was stalled again with the lawyers in the party not happy with what some of them insisted was a ‘reckless’ initiative. More so as the Trinamool Congress and the DMK remained hesitant about the proposal.

However, after the Loya ruling Rahul Gandhi who has been taking a personal interest in the controversy over the last Judge’s demise, intervened more strongly. And insisted that the party had to take the lead in collecting signatures and submitting the impeachment notice to the Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice President of India Venkiah Naidu. The same was subsequently done with the murmurings from Ashwini Kumar and Salman Khursheed easily ignored, more as neither is an MP.

The one step back and two steps forward seems to be paying dividends. The highly cautious approach of Sonia Gandhi---determined partly by her own personality and largely by her lack of knowledge about Indian politics initially---has been discarded by her son who despite his quiet exterior is far more adventurous. But meticulous in planning. As the Gujarat elections showed where his team provided the inputs and the backup to traditional Congress members who he had selected to work with him. The concentric circles approach had some of the more senior Gujarat Congress leaders working on the outside rings, and the relatively marginalised forming the inner ring of advisors.

Rahul Gandhi has also discarded the aloofness his mother was known for, more so after Punjab where Amarinder Singh was given more than a run for his money. Since then he has shed the Nehru-Gandhi arrogance, to personally reach out to leaders and others he sees as part of his larger strategy. For instance, it is no secret that the three young leaders of Gujarat--Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor were wooed and encouraged by Rahul Gandhi directly. In the process Thakor joined the Congress, as did Mevani by being given a strong Congress seat that he won largely because of Rahul Gandhi’s personal campaign, and Hardik Patel while restricted his mass base decided to work with the Congress and not against it.

More recently he has not hesitated to drop in at least twice publicly to meet Nationalist Congress Party strongman Sharad Pawar. He is in touch directly with other Opposition leaders. And unlike others in the Congress is not adverse to criticism, in fact enjoys such discussions.

In Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi has left centre stage to Chief Minister Siaddaramaiah, providing the support base that the latter needs to win the election. The two are working in tandem, with the CM in charge. He has now just decided to contest a second seat in the forthcoming Assembly elections, Badami just days before the polling with the BJP rushing to revise its list. Earlier the CM had announced his nomination from just the Chamundeshwari seat.

The teams to oversee the elections are in consultation with the CM, and have caused no unpleasant ripples or discord within the Congress. Madhusudan Mistry, a Rahul Gandhi favourite, is in charge of the screening committee with the election committee a good mix of central and state leaders who will be working clearly as a support team for the CM. The tensions that used to be visible between New Delhi and a state have eased entirely, with Gujarat leading to Karnataka. The days of Punjab seem to have been left behind by the new Congress president who is busy cherry picking the older leaders to buttress his more youthful and less traditional Congress team.

In the process a new team is taking shape without drastic purges of the old. The Congress that was often ahead of the BJP in laughing and making fun of Rahul Gandhi now speaks of him with new respect. “Rahul ji “has completely replaced the demand for “Priyanka ji” with a strategy that takes into account the conservativism of the elder lot as per the visits to the Hindu temples in Gujarat, but marries it to smart, humours tweets that clearly draw blood in the BJP. In fact from being the recipient of political barbs Rahul Gandhi’s social media advisors have turned the process around, with the BJP more often than not reacting to his sharp edged comments. Siddaramaiah too is not far behind, having joined the social media fairly recently. And as some say with ‘help’. His tweets are immediate and fast, as the latest now where he has refused to respond to a BJP leaders tweet in Hindi asking him to speak in English or in Kannada. A clear play on the regional passions that the Congress has taken a clear decision to stoke.

The old guard that surrounded Sonia Gandhi is not particularly happy but the fact that they are kept engaged, and not thrown out of the concentric circles loop altogether keeps them quiet. However, this time the baton is unlikely to go back to them with Rahul Gandhi moving ahead to create his own team with a firm hand. No Pappu behaviour here but that of an increasingly accomplished politician who seems to have found his space in the party that tried hard to keep him out.