New Delhi, Jan. 23: If the 2014 election pits Narendra Modi against Rahul Gandhi, the Congress vice-president offered a sneak preview of how he will position himself.
On his first day in office after being appointed number two, Rahul said there was too much negativity around.
"I will try to reduce that, I don't want negative politics to continue," he said in a brief interaction with the media hours after the new BJP president Rajnath Singh spewed venom on the Congress, blaming it for all the ills afflicting the country.
Rahul said: "The environment of politics and the type of discussions are acrimonious. It seems we are always fighting with each other. I don't want to be negative or critical of everybody. Positive politics will take this country forward. This is a dynamic country, this country can do wonders. We should have negative discussions but we are having a lot of negativity. There is a lot of positive in this country."
The Gandhi scion had changed his campaign style when he went to Gujarat and, instead of launching a lethal offensive like he did against Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, highlighted Modi's negativity and obsession with his own persona while describing himself as a follower of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Gujarat campaign was the first clue to how he might counter Modi at the national level, should the two be pitted against each other.
Rahul today extolled the Congress but did not say a word on the BJP although many senior leaders had hoped he would comment on Nitin Gadkari's unseemly exit.
"The Congress is the best instrument to change things, to bring in youngsters. This is the most powerful instrument of change and I shall try to use this instrument to change the country. That is the basic sentiment," Rahul said.
Some Congress leaders hailed this approach, recalling how the voters rejected an aggressive L.K. Advani who continuously heaped scorn on the sober Manmohan Singh.
AICC office-bearers, mostly veterans who have been fearing he will wield the broom, were today pleasantly surprised when he sought their co-operation.
"This is the heart of the Congress. There is no dearth of talent here. I know you all are capable and I am looking forward to working with you. There are people in this room who have spent more time in politics than my age. I want to learn from them. I hope to get co-operation from all of you," he said at an interaction, after which the seniors were heard showering praise on him.
Rahul said: "I will meet everybody separately to understand what needs to be done. Some of my colleagues told me after attending the Chintan Shivir that the perception about Congress leaders doesn't reflect their true depth and understanding."
When some leaders praised his speech at the Jaipur conclave, he said: "I said what I felt, what I experienced. Now you have to tell me how to implement what I said."
This approach is in sharp contrast to that of Modi, who is known to dictate terms to senior leaders. The BJP's central leadership has no role in ticket distribution in Gujarat. Modi also built his campaign in Gujarat by brutally attacking Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi and often made fun of "Rahul-baba."
Congress leaders see Rahul's approach as ideal but add that he will have to be firm and take tough decisions to bring change. Humility and positivity will translate into political support only if he delivers on his promises, they said.
Asked for a comparison between the styles of Modi and Rahul, one Congress MP said: "Rahul's style has to be different because his politics is different. But Modi has delivered and perfected the art of winning election. Rahul has to learn that art and understand the complexities of governance. Everybody will watch carefully how he proceeds now and how far the promises for change in systems of governance and political culture shape his politics in future."
The first indication will come when he recasts Sonia's team.