Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Congress MP Rahul Gandhi kicked up a storm in the House with his maiden speech from this post. He raised every single issue that the Congress party and the members of the I.N.D.I.A bloc had campaigned on – paper leaks, farmers, unemployment, divisiveness, rights and justice — but brought in so much more. In his usual straightforward style he brought home the alternative progressive narrative that he has introduced into the Opposition arena, a ‘ save the constitution’ agenda that encompasses the rights of the persecuted and poorest sections of society.

Rahul Gandhi’s speech sent shockwaves through not just the treasury but also the opposition benches as he took the ruling dispensation head on, and as he stood his ground despite continuous admiration, the BJP ranks fell silent and the shock and awe turned into visible admiration on the opposite side.

What has Rahul Gandhi’s maiden speech established, and why was it so important?

  1. He set out the tone and tenor of what is to come. And made it clear that this will be a feisty opposition; where all issues will be raised without fear or favour; where bold courage will be the yardstick within the Constitution of India and the rule of law as dictated by Parliament norms and conventions;
  2. He again outlined the issues that brought the Opposition together and is expected to keep the I.N.D.I.A bloc united in the coming months and years, particularly as the Lok Sabha polls move into important state elections. Maharashtra will be going to the polls this autumn along with Haryana and Jharkhand. All crucial for establishing the Opposition claim of being on the ascendant.
  3. He established the Opposition in the Lok Sabha , for the first time in ten years where the numbers are important of course but so is the leaders ability to take on the dispensation, and act as an effective check and balance in the Lok Sabha, the House of the People. There could have been a meek LoP despite the numbers, and that would not have given the Opposition the gravitas, the momentum and the courage to challenge and question the government as it is required to do. Rahul Gandhi steered the Opposition ship deftly through BJP protest, and made sure it landed safely with the storm on its side.The absence of an effective Opposition the Lok Sabha for these two terms gave the government a free hand in all matters of governance and legislation.
  4. The LoP made it clear that the Opposition under Rahul Gandhi will not be found wanting, is keeping a hawk eye on the government, and will not hesitate to say it as it is. For instance Rahul Gandhi made two important points that hit the BJP hard, judging from the protests from the treasury benches. One, when the Prime Minister stood up to counter his claim about Hinduism, the Congress leader shot back with a strong and repeated assertion that the BJP and the RSS did not represent Hindus. There was no counter to this eventually with the Speaker Om Birla also unable to stop this particular argument. And two, the LoPs masterstroke of shaking hands with the Samajwadi party MP from Ayodhya and making it clear that the BJP had not won the seat despite the Ram Mandir construction and campaign. Again there was little that the Speaker could do to stop this argument. Truth and honesty hurts as those who speak it cannot be managed, and hence create a fear amongst those who live by lies and half truths.Rahul Gandhi has established the reputation, even within his own party, of being brutally frank.
  5. He made it clear that the Opposition is not wanting in so far as the minorities are concerned. Responding quietly to this charge that has found its way into articles and of course the social media, the speech referred to the Muslims, Sikhs, Christians maintaining that the minorities of India were being attacked despite having stood like rocks for the country. He also quoted from the Quran and the Guru Granth Sahib to say that like Hinduism all religions stood for love and fearlessness. This will carry a message across the sections that have been feeling vulnerable and insecure.
  6. After a long time the Lok Sabha witnessed not just an exchange but the ability of a LoP to have the Prime Minister and Union Ministers on their feet. The smiles and sniggers of the past turned into defensive explanations with PM Narendra Modi rising at least twice, with Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh repeatedly responding to points raised by the LoP. This in itself has not been seen by at least a generation of reporters in the Lok Sabha, who have no idea about the debates, the barbs and the repartees by good orators and sound Parliamentarians of the past. At one point Shah even told the Speaker who has been re-elected by the BJP for the post, that he was favouring the other side!
  7. Rahul Gandhi led from the front, and that was important for him and the Congress to establish the leadership. Not just in Parliament but in the I.N.D.I.A conglomerate as it can, if used with diplomacy and some humility, chalk a good way forward for all the member political parties. What happens in Parliament - particularly the Lok Sabha— reverberates through political India and helps set the stage and strengthen the checks and balances without which democracy cannot survive.