Rahul Gandhi (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI – There was a time India was called the land of snake charmers. Thankfully, that was a very long time ago, but somehow the animal metaphors continue to dog Indians.

When India instituted economic reforms in 1991, analysts dubbed it the elephant economy. India, like the elephant, was slow, but when it moved, others had to sit up and take notice.

Of course, every now and then Indians got impatient and envied the "tiger" economies of southeast Asia or the dragon of Chinese economic growth, which appeared to burn brighter and sprint faster. But for reasons including its population of 1.2 billion and the weight of democracy, India just could not emulate the other animals.

Sometime last year, when it sunk in that Indian economy was losing its golden touch, Forbes India called it the “gasping elephant.” Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed frustration with the slowdown and called for reviving the “animal spirits” of the Indian economy.

A recent cover of the Economist magazine asks, “Can India Become A Great Power?” It showed the image of a kitten seeing a tiger in the mirror.

Earlier this year Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat state, came to New Delhi and said that in the eyes of the world Indians had transformed from being snake-charmers to mouse-charmers, a reference to India’s information technology boom.

But just when Indians had made peace with the pace of the elephant and the mouse-pad, the ruling Congress Party’s vice president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday introduced a new creature into the lexicon – beehive.

“People call us an elephant. We are not an elephant. We are a beehive,” Gandhi said, comparing India to China, during a free-wheeling interaction with members of the Confederation of Indian Industry in New Delhi.

“We are actually much more powerful than we think, except we don’t apply power in a centralized way,” he elaborated. “That’s the power of beehive. Nobody sees it. Sits there, works quietly. Little bit of noise in the beehive, that buzzing sound that you hear all the time. This complexity that we are having to deal with. It drives me nuts. This is the noise of a decentralized system. It stresses me out. And actually it drives the foreigners crazy because they are not used to it.”

Gandhi is usually not very verbose. But on Thursday, he went on and on about the beehive.

“This buzzing sound that you don’t like, this is teaching you to deal with complexity and this is going to give you the competitive advantage like nobody has ever had before,” he said.

"Beehive" immediately trended here on Twitter.