Just Modi-bashing is not enough to get votes. Rahul should be able to convince the people that he will be the better alternative
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi turned 50 last week and celebrated his birthday quietly in view of the Coronavirus outbreak. His father Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister of the country at the age of 40.
Rahul, too, could have become the Prime Minister in 2009 when the Congress Party returned to power or at least a Cabinet Minister during the ten years of the UPA’s rule from 2004 -2014.
However, Rahul had his own ideas of leadership. At the swearing-in ceremony in 2009, I asked him why he did not become a Minister and his reply was, “I don’t want to do ten things at a time. I want to do only one thing at a time.” Now, Rahul’s loyalists are getting impatient to bring him back as the party chief. Nobody knows why he resigned last year after the Lok Sabha poll results or why he is coming back as the Congress president. It is pertinent to note that though not holding any office, it is Rahul who is fighting from the front on behalf of the Congress Party, though Sonia Gandhi too, is writing letters and participating in meetings with the political leaders and the Prime Minister.
The indications of Rahul’s return as the party chief were clear at last week’s meeting of the party’s top policy-making body, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting, where there was a clash between the old guard and Rahul. The power struggle was visible when Rahul was critical of the old guard for not supporting him in his campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi either now or earlier during the 2019 poll campaign.
The old guard is wary of personal attacks against Modi as they feel that the negative campaign against the Prime Minister will not work. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, a known Sonia loyalist, was the one who raised the issue in the CWC meeting and the “Rahul lao” chorus began soon after. One of them even suggested that a virtual meeting should be organised to bring Rahul back as the chief of the party.
Rahul 2.0 will see a new brand of the Gandhi scion. From the “angry young man” of the earlier days, Rahul 2.0 will be seen as a mature and effective leader, who alone can take on Prime Minister Modi.
Rahul is being projected as an intellectual who can hold his own with global experts and economists. His conversations with experts like former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan, Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee and former US diplomat Nicholas Burns were meant to convey that. Rahul has also been engaging the media as was evident by the three free-wheeling press conferences he held in recent weeks.
Rahul also launched his own Telegram channel this week. The main purpose of this exercise was to connect with the voters directly. It is available on the messaging app and has so far about 3,500 subscribers. This is a novel experiment as it gives the public access to his views directly. Though he came late to the social media game as compared to the BJP, he has been catching up fast in the last two years. He has 14.9 million followers on twitter and over a million on instagram. His YouTube channel has 3.1 lakh subscribers.
His strategists must have thought it is time for a new brand of Rahul. He can no longer be called a young man as he is 50 now. Hence, the time has come to project him as a mature leader, who has a worldview. Even the BJP no longer calls Rahul the demeaning names given to him earlier and is engaging with him politically, though it is still ridiculing him often.
However, undaunted by the jibes, the new avatar of Rahul has been raising pertinent issues like Modi’s handling of the Chinese incursions, the failing economy and the hiccups in the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic on behalf of the Congress and tweets about these issues almost daily.
Rahul strategists would like him to shed the image of a dynast and a privileged man. Instead they want him to be seen as the alternative to Modi. But before that happens, Rahul must first revive the party from the grassroots level.
He should promote the second rung leaders in the Congress and appoint the right man for the right job. He must listen to the voices of experience within the party. Second, he should also try to emerge as a successful Opposition leader and unite the till-now scattered Opposition. Right now it is Sonia Gandhi who is doing that job, but she has not been very successful at it as the regional satraps are all going their own way. Third, and most importantly, the Congress party needs to find a new narrative. Sonia Gandhi was successful because she thought of the “aam aadmi (common man)” slogan in 2004, which clicked well with the electorate. Just Modi-bashing is not enough to get votes. Rahul should be able to convince the people that he will be the better alternative to Modi.
He got everything in politics on a silver plate. He had the family name. He was young and presentable and had good opportunities in politics. He reached the top position in the party.
Now he should not miss a second chance if he comes back as the party chief. A wise leader would grab the opportunities given to him and Rahul missed many of them in the past. Hopefully Rahul 2.0 will not miss any of them.
(Writer: Kalyani Shankar; Courtesy: The Pioneer)