MUMBAI: A BJP ally from Maharashtra, the second after the Shiv Sena, thinks that Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s leadership capabilities have improved and he isn’t a ‘Pappu‘ anymore, a reference to the name that was often used pejoratively by the Congress leader’s critics, particularly from the BJP in the run up to the 2014 general elections.
“He is not ‘Pappu‘ anymore. He looks confident and hopefully can be a good leader,” Union Minister for State for Social Justice Ramdas Athawale told reporters in Akola in east Maharashtra, according to Press Trust of India.
A four time parliamentarian from Maharashtra, the minister is the founder-leader of the Republican Party of India (Athawale), an NDA constituent.
Mr Athawale, 57, is the first Union Minister to speak about Rahul Gandhi in a positive light after Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut, who in the same discussion, spoke of Mr Gandhi’s ability to leading the country and took a dig at the BJP, saying PM Modi’s wave had faded.
Those remarks did not go down well with the BJP and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP ended up telling its ally that the party should stop playing “the roles of a ruling party and an opposition at the same time”.
The Shiv Sena, the second largest constituent of the BJP-led NDA has been in a strained relationship with the BJP. Mr Raut had to clarify that he did not mean Rahul Gandhi should lead the country and was only speaking about Mr Gandhi’s capability.
Mr Athawale, who went on to advise the Congress vice president to marry a Dalit, took a swipe at Mr Gandhi too, saying casteism couldn’t be removed by having meals with the community alone. “If needed, I will help finding one (match) for him,” the Dalit leader said.
In June this year, the Congress had sacked a party leader in Uttar Pradesh after his WhatsApp messages, while praising Rahul Gandhi, referred to him as “Pappu”. The disparaging name was initially bestowed on the Congress leader by BJP supporters online but in 2013, it made it to the election speeches of top BJP leaders as well.