It seems to have gone unnoticed, but simply because the media has lost its ability to note and comment without handouts. But the Congress under Rahul Gandhi is undergoing a metamorphosis that has been slow but certainly not subtle.

When Rahul Gandhi came on to the political scene, and started taking an on-off interest in the Congress party he did say in private meetings that he was working towards this, but that it would take a few years, and no one should expect anything dramatic to happen overnight. The political attack on him from the BJP and its trolls was part of a larger strategy to diminish the Congress influence, and prevent Rahul Gandhi from rising. There was less fear of Priyanka Gandhi who the Congress leaders seemed to prefer, and more trepidation about Rahul Gandhi finding his feet in the party and the nation as it were. That alone can explain the high velocity of the attack on the Congress scion who faced the brunt of troll nastiness from the word go.

Interestingly a media person really does not need to go anywhere to find out the new strategy, and what are the aims and agenda of the Congress party under Rahul Gandhi. It is all in the open, with the Congress leader speaking his mind and outlining his strategy for all those who care to listen and understand.

As pointed out in some detail in these columns earlier the strategy came into play with the announcement of the Bharat Jodo Yatra and its national unveiling. Rahul Gandhi emerged through the course of the 5000 km as the leader of the organization, accepted by the people and finally by the party itself. The crowds grew, as did his confidence, and the Congress party workers emerged from their shells with new enthusiasm. He said he was left with no option but to meet the people directly as he was blacked out by the media, not allowed a voice in Parliament — and if he needed validation it came from the criminal defamation case filed against him in Gujarat (where else), the quick disqualification from Parliament, and the eviction from his house.

During and after the yatra, a new Congress has emerged. The strategy that was visible during the yatra has consolidated, with a strong focus on publicity, with regular press conferences,Rahul Gandhi’s personal interactions with the people that have continued through the Karnataka poll campaign, and an alert party with the spokespersons taking up each and every issue to confront the ruling party with. So much so that the party has started dominating the social media waves to counter the television propaganda that remains focused on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Alongside a targeted campaign on corruption, the Congress has given teeth to its manifesto with a signed declaration to fulfill five promises to the people of Karnataka including free electricity, a small monthly income for women, free travel for women in state buses. And 10 kg of free grain to BPL families. This has been followed by a pledge signed by all candidates on the eve of polling to ensure that they will deliver on the party’s 5 guarantees. “Once elected as your MLA, I will deliver on the 5 Congress guarantees for the people of Karnataka. I will dedicate myself to developing our constituency. Karnataka’s interests will be my first priority. I will defend Kannada pride and culture with all my might. I pledge to fight corruption, maintain transparency and work towards a progressive Karnataka,” the pledge signed by the Congress candidates read.

This along with the “40 percent sarkar” seems to resonate with the people of Karnataka but to what extent will be revealed on May 13 when the votes are counted. Inclusivity versus BJPs religion polarisation remains a poll theme as well with top guns of the Congress party raising the issue along with corruption over and over again.

After a long time the Congress party seems to be fighting an election with strategy and seriousness. The publicity is at another level altogether but alongside is a show of respect for all leaders, with Congress president Kharge very much at the helm in Karnataka. He brought a visible solidity to the campaign, and when attacked by the BJP had the entire party including Rahul Gandhi coming out in his support. The Dalit card has been played subtly, and while not trumpeted from all rooftops has settled in as a factor to be weighed in by the voters. The 80 year old Congress leader is earning respect and admiration for his firebrand politics that has had him on his feet through the campaign.

The party leaders have all been galvanised. Even Meira Kumar was brought out of hibernation to address the media in Karnataka. Almost every major leader, past and present, have been involved in the campaign although the disgruntled elements sniping at others within the party have been distanced. At least for now. Alongside the entire family - Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi – have been campaigning with full force with no disappearances that at least the siblings have been famous for in the past. Rahul Gandhi, confident and assertive, has led the campaign outlining the strategy with his sister playing an important role in building up his image with full support. “My brother” is the mainstay of her campaign speeches, which are going down very well with the masses as per local reports. Senior journalists covering the campaign are impressed with the Family’s direct rapport with the people, fearlessness, and the ability to communicate on a meaningful level.

The Karnataka Congress party has been enthused with the youth and the women cadres out on the roads after a long time. The rivalries within the state party have been papered over for now, with all known and not so well known rivals working well together, and posing for photo-ops every now and again. For the first time the campaign has not been punctured by sulks and bitterness, as the party has managed to appear as one united, enthusiastic whole. No mean feat given the recent past where the Congress party, despite a fairly strong organisaiton, sank into its own morass.

As a senior leader from the state said, “it is all about the leadership, and its ability to motivate.” Rahul Gandhi has a distinct political style. And that he has found new acceptability after the Bharat Jodo Yatra is a major step forward for the Congress as he is driving the organisation with sobriety and strategy.

In Karnataka, the Congress has attached itself to local issues of pride, federalism, culture, food and language along with the larger issues of unemployment, price rise and diversity. Rahul Gandhi has been meeting local groups to hear their complaints and assure them support with the ‘icecream’ he had at the local Nandini dairy going a long way to bring the party centre stage.

The Congress has become more responsive and combative under Rahul Gandhi’s charge. The sagging organisation has been given an adrenaline shot, and while all the many problems have certainly not been resolved there is new energy that is drawing a response.

Rahul Gandhi’s Congress thus can be defined by the following factors:

1. It is based on democracy - with the Gandhi’s working along with the party leaders and workers on a daily basis;

2. It does not nurture arrogance, and leadership is determined by merit and hard work;

3. The local worker is given her due merit, after a long time;

4. All leaders are given space and a platform; and are made visible

5. Those who want to leave are most welcome to, as those who have left will not be asked to come back under the party’s ‘good riddance’ approach;

6. The party does not shy away from propaganda and has set up a huge publicity platform that is being utilised to the hilt on the social media;

7. Several press conferences a day have become the norm at the centre and the states and each is given due prominence- issues on a given day can range from the violence in Manipur, to corruption, to fake news:

8. There is better synergy and synchronization between the leaders and the various wings of the party;

9. The new Congress is no longer defensive about the Gandhi Family that is now in the lead countering the BJP on all issues;

10. Teamwork is the essence of the new Congress.