Rahul Gandhi needs to redesign his strategy. Like Sonia Gandhi in 2004, his attacks should be government schemes and poll promises specific rather being Narendra Modi specific
By Anil Anand
When Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi took-off for USA on a two-week tour to connect with Indian Diaspora among others, many eyebrows were raised within his own party for abandoning the ship at a crucial juncture and showing no inclination to stabilize it. The prophets of doom, both within and outside Congress, were emphatic in stressing that he was on course to commit yet another blunder. Ostensibly he has proved them wrong. For once his impressive performance off-shore has generated a debate different in tone and tenor with even some of the critics beginning to find merit in his conduct and presentation.
Will Rahul be able to repeat his magic on homeland with same impunity with which he grabbed headlines in the international media through creating a good impression on his audiences? And what went behind this change for him to ultimately finding his ground? Was it his own homework and hard-task or the making of a behind the curtain strategist?
These questions have assumed significance. Yearning to find answers to these became instant as social media, for once, started reflecting the positivity of his USA tour and the benefits accrued thereof. The debate and analysis to find answers to these questions would continue unless the man himself or his close network unravels the secret as part of strategy to emulate the same on home-turf.
There is no denying the fact that a well-thought-off strategy and planning must be behind conceiving his US tour. It could be the tried and trusted friend of the Gandhi family Sam Pitroda, who is also chief of the Overseas Congress, and chief strategist or architect of these shows? It cannot be entirely denied. But no amount of planning could have succeeded unless the person himself was ready to strike the right chord.
A big gain of Rahul’s USA visit is that he has been able to create that elusive buzz about issues related India-political particularly about phenomenon called Narendra Modi. All his efforts in this regard while criss-crossing the country sometimes did grab a headline or two but soon to be enveloped in a smog of negativity thoughtfully created by his detractors in BJP and some within his own party as well. May be he was not forceful or convincing in his arguments, or may be that the time was not right for any charge leveled by him to stick on Modi’s shining jackets. Honestly, it was a mix of both.
An analysis of his conduct during his USA interactions makes it amply clear that there has been a change in strategy. Rahul cannot be a rabble-rouser or as garrulous as Modi as it does not come naturally to him. In the similar vein Modi cannot act as a silent spectator which is contrary to his nature.
The earlier strategists such as Prashant Kishore and before him including some image builders perhaps sought to develop his personality as someone who would counter Modi and repay in the latter’s currency, rather than developing his own exclusive style based on natural instincts. Clearly Rahul was caught between what he was not and what his strategists tried to create out of him. At least his USA performance bears this out.
One strong factor behind Rahul succeeding to create an impression on his audience abroad was that he made his own style a strength which was to be candid and honest and straightforward rather than harping on a rhetorical route to beat Modi at his own game. His honesty in admitting Congress’ organisational weaknesses and candidness on the dynastic issues generated interest among the audiences.
The people and audiences are always in the lookout for that ‘X’ factor or something different particularly among the political leaders, to formulate their opinions. Modi prior to and during 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign created a strong impression that he was different and meant differently. He was accepted by people on his face value while others failed to counter him.
Honest admission of follies and flaws is always perceived to be an act of integrity. And it has double the effect if it comes from politicians as there is a general impression that this crop is apt at defending the indefensible and adamant at not admitting their failures through fretting out lies. No government can claim cent-percent delivery on promises made by its leaders to the public and Modi dispensation is no different. The BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Modi created a larger than life image for himself, which in some respects befits him, and made lofty promises to be fulfilled within tight deadlines set by none other but by himself.
This strategy worked effectively for Modi till demonetization and GST like issues came with bundle of problems such as constraints in industrial sector and job market. This instigated a critical analysis of his government’s performance on other parameters as well. Rather than admitting failures and practical difficulties in getting the desired results in the stipulated timeframe team-Modi is continuously crediting itself with impressive success rate.
Strategically Modi and his strategists have targeted Rahul’s dynastic connections to portray him as someone privileged and not talented to take the mantle of Congress Presidentship or be the Prime Ministerial candidate. This strategy did succeed to a large extent and one strong reason was lack of counter-narrative on the part of Rahul as well as Congress. Killing soldiers too weakens the emperor. Rather attacking PM Modi directly, it would be better if Team Rahul or even Rahul Gandhi highlights failures of the Modi government and attack the concerned minister. Targeting Modi for each government failure won’t pay dividends. In Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal did the same but learnt his lessons on time and won the Bawana by-poll with thumping margin.
Rather indulging in debate over dynasts dominating various fraternity in India, Congress’ PM in waiting should focus on highlighting the broken promises and loop holes of the government programs leading to public apathy — an essence of creative opposition which remained a hallmark of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee when the later used to sit in opposition.
No amount of strategy or image building could pay unless the leader or the person at the centre of action creates a ‘love at first sight” syndrome with his audiences even if it is feeble. The strategies and image makeover would come into play after that.
Rahul’s aggressive jibes “such as suit-boot ki sarkar” were neither natural nor to his liking as was reflected by his body language. So these counters did generate momentary heat but brought no dividends either to him or his party. Surely, it was a case of poor strategy inflicted upon him by either close aides or highly paid strategists. Hence, there is strong need for Rahul having the kind of political strategists who were around Rahul in 2009 Lok Sabha Polls, which was peak of Congress in post Rajeev Gandhi era.