'His prowess in Aikido -- a Japanese martial art that focuses on harmony with the opponent to peacefully resolve conflicts -- gives Rahul Gandhi an advantage that fanatical adversaries lack,' says Sunanda K Datta-Ray.
IMAGE: Congress President Rahul Gandhi demonstrates his Aikido moves. Photograph: Kind courtesy: @bharad/Twitter
Rahul Gandhi has an opportunity now of scripting a new narrative for India's future if only he avoids walking into the current dispensation's religion trap.
He can't compete with the Hindutva brigade whose unstated agenda of marginalising nearly 15 per cent of the population panders to the lumpen multitude.
But the new Congress president can and must capitalise on representing the face of a dynamic new future.
He epitomises modernity without needing to bellow 'Digital India' to prove he is modern.
Education in international relations and development studies at prestigious British and American institutions has broadened his world view.
Management consultancy and technology outsourcing experience in London and Mumbai brings familiarity with the latest business culture.
At 47, he is still young by Indian political standards. His Parsi, Kashmiri and Italian ancestry ensures freedom from caste and community limitations.
A Patidar revolt cannot give him the jitters. The very fact that an unknown 30-year-old Maharashtra Congress secretary can challenge his authority speaks volumes about the liberal political landscape he inhabits.
Described as 'a lawyer and civil rights activist', Shehzad Poonawalla says, 'My religion is Islam, culture is Hindu, ideology Indian.' That could be a proud national and Congress definition.
Being similarly eclectic, Rahul doesn't need to peddle orthodox credentials. Whether or not he wears the sacred thread (there is no reason why he should), his supporters played into the obscurantist lobby's hands by claiming he is 'not only a Hindu, but a 'janeu-dhari Hindu.'
They should know that any attempt to match Sangh Parivar bigotry can only be counterproductive. It has already exposed Rahul to mischievous needling by Lok Sabha member Meenakshi Lekhi who wants to know his stand on Rama.
Other malicious innuendoes will follow. Rahul's claim that his 'family' are 'Shiv bhakt' may prompt critics to ask whether he means the Nehrus, Mainos, Gandhis, or only Indira Gandhi.
A modern man aspiring to lead a nation of 1.3 billion people yearning for a better life should not get enmeshed in such profitless controversies.
They are best left to the sadhus and sadhvis, yogis and mahants whose religiosity is as cunningly motivated as their commercial instincts are sharp and politics regressive.
Rahul should concentrate on all he can do to promote education, enlightenment and economic prosperity across the board -- not only for the favoured few -- and rescue society from retreating into the dark ages.
To be able to do that, he must be aware of what he can't do.
Rabble-rousing is not his forte. Nor Mani Shankar Aiyar's verbal extravagance.
Despite flashes of wit ('Gabbar Singh Tax') he is no populist. He is an intense man whose thinking and language indicate that business management training has left a deeper imprint on his personality than is usually imagined.
Perhaps that limits his political style somewhat. But he will find that in the long run people prefer sober sincerity to dramatic rhetoric and theatrics.
Supported by equally progressive colleagues like the talented Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora and others, he can draw the outlines of a vigorous and confident future that does not need the crutch of ancient myths or superstitious totems.
As he rightly said, true faith and devotion are a 'very personal matter', not to be spoken of lightly and certainly not to be used 'for political purposes'.
The political posturing of ostentatious Ganga worship, flamboyant yoga demonstrations or spectacular shows of allegiance to Rama has no place in a rationalist's agenda.
The temptation to depart from his own repugnance of 'dalali' over something so personal as religion and stoop to his adversary's level of repartee must be resisted.
As he also rightly said, identity is not something on which the next Congress president 'needs anyone else's certificate.'
Rahul's great-grandfather told scientists in Colombo that politics and religion were obsolete; the time had come for science and spirituality. He must nurture that legacy.
It is untrue that Jawaharlal Nehru objected to rebuilding the Somnath temple where the present fuss originated. Apart from baulking at the cost, Nehru didn't think the inauguration should be a State function presided over by the President of India. But, then, his India was a secular democratic Republic for all Indians. It wasn't a 'Hindu Pakistan'.
Nehru's great-grandson will earn posterity's gratitude if as Congress chief he can restore that ideal.
His prowess in Aikido -- a Japanese martial art that focuses on harmony with the opponent to peacefully resolve conflicts -- gives Rahul Gandhi an advantage that fanatical adversaries lack.