The Narendra Modi effect refuses to die down. After the Gujarat Chief Minister addressed the students of Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) on February 6 as a preliminary step towards the national stage, it is time for the Congress to follow suit. It is learnt that a top Congress leader is likely to address the annual convocation of the college on March 6, exactly a month after Modi made his appearance, and guess who is it? No. You are wrong. It is not Rahul Gandhi but the Prime Minister himself, Dr Manmohan Singh.
Congress decides to test the youth challenge but not through Rahul
Is it just a coincidence that the PM is following the trail of the CM or a deliberate ploy of the Congress to test its stars against a young constituency? The party leading the UPA has had some uncomfortable encounters with youths in the recent past, in the wake of a horrific gangrape incident in the national capital.
Besides, the government has also been facing flak from a large section of the young population over issues like corruption. Activists like Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal had found a solid backing from the agitated youth in their tirade against corruption and demand for Lokpal. Modi, meanwhile, has scripted a successful development model in his state which engages the youth in a big way.
The Gandhis have asserted that it is important for the party to give wings to the ambition of the youths if it aimed to get their backing. Rahul Gandhi has been working to infuse more young blood in the party while other ministers are trying to boost the government's online presence to connect to more and more young minds.
Why not Rahul to counter Modi? The VP has a bad track record at student meets
Whether the March 6 interaction at the SRCC is an apolitical occasion or not, there is no denying that Dr Singh would want to contribute something for his party by connecting to the youth. The scholar-politician who has an enviable academic record is undoubtedly more capable in addressing students than a Rahul Gandhi, who has had some bitter experience while talking at students' forum in the recent past. The vice-president was accused of using students' meet as a platform to promote political agenda in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab.
The party could not afford to draw flak at the prestigious SRCC where the BJP leader had presented an impressive speech earlier this month and hence backed Singh, a more genuine candidate to handle academic issues. The economics scholar can reach out to commerce students much more easily and try to convince them about the visions of the government.
Noted economics scholar Bibek Debroy rightly caught the mood when he tweeted: "...If so, there will be a smaller glass, so that it is fuller." Modi had spoken about a third view while looking at a glass half-filled with water. He said the glass might be called half-filled, half-empty or even a fuller one, half filled with water and half with air. We do not know whether Singh would be able to explain a fourth view, but he can surely carry a smaller and hopefully, fuller glass.
When in need, look for quality
The SRCC might have evolved into a judging stick for politicians to test their confidence, but PM Singh's visit to the convocation sends across another message about the Congress. And that is: The party supporters or rather sycophants keep on chanting about Rahul baba becoming the next PM while already a man is serving in that capacity but when the need arises to make an equal counter impact to Modi, it is poor old Manmohan Singh who is recalled.
The man, who despite being at a great disadvantage in a family-centric political culture, has served the government from the top for nearly a decade now but is still unlikely to be equated with the Gandhis, just like another great scholar PM Narasimha Rao, a man conveniently forgotten. Yet, when the question of defending his government and party arises, Singh is remembered. It proves that it is the prime minister and not the vice-president who is the best answer that the Congress has for Modi.
Both Singh and Modi have almost same number of years under their belt as administrators and can best explain what suits the nation best. Modi spoke as a future PM on February 6, Singh must speak as the current PM on March 6. Singh won't lack substance but just has to raise his voice by a few notches.
A related question also arises: If Rahul Gandhi is still not ready to find a compatibility with young minds of a young country like India, then how on earth can he expect to engage with the entire nation post 2014, if the situation so arises?