For the last several years, every election has been about the image make-over of Rahul Gandhi. And the effort continues even in Parliament now. Congress strategists seem to be shooting in the dark in their search for that perfect image which could make him the true challenger to Narendra Modi.
It was the first quarter of 2012. Rahul Gandhi was on a whirlwhind election campaign tour of Uttar Pradesh. Akhilesh Yadav as the main challenger to incumbent Mayawati was drawing big crowds and also giving the right kind of statements forcing people to believe that he could be more than just Mulayam Singh's son. However, the national (nowadays referred to as Lutyens) media was more occupied with discussing Rahul Gandhi and his body language. His rolling up of the sleeves after every other sentence was a great favourite. Also carrying chits of paper in his kurta pocket which had prompted many digs from Akhilesh before they became friends.
The common refrain in the national media about Rahul's campaign at that time was building his image as the 'Angry Young Man' of politics to reflect the true sentiments of the youth who wanted to change the shape of things in the country. It didn't strike the strategists that the country at that time was ruled by a coalition headed by his mother and a Prime Minister handpicked by the family. Well, Mayawati lost the election and Akhilesh Yadav became the chief minister of India's biggest state with a handsome majority.
Meanwhile, the Angry Young Man famously tore up the ordinance brought by his own govt meant to shield corrupt politicians. Since then nothing worked quite right for the Congress. The party scored its worst tally in 2014 general elections and lost several assembly elections back to back.
However, the image make-over exercise continued. Exactly five years after the angry young man experiment failed to yield dividends there was effort for another image over in the 2017 UP polls. This time, the image sought to be projected was that of a friendly boy next door ready to align with like minded friends for politics. Hence the UP ke Ladke campaign. Of course, that too bombed.
But all these completely paled when compared to the Janeudhari Hindu avatar in the Gujarat elections. Here was a temple hopping, Shiva devotee who performed rituals (sometimes questionably) in Mandirs, met saints and visited ashrams all over Gujarat. Gujarati media wrote that leave alone talking about Muslims, Rahul Gandhi even avoided being photographed with Muslim workers during the campaign.
A slightly softer version of this Hindu Rahul was visible in Karnataka too. Here too one saw much temple hopping, visits to Mutts every morning and photographs with seers and pontiffs.
In a few months, there is another round of assembly elections in three large BJP-ruled states where the Congress will be the direct challenger. And then, of course, is the penultimate round or the 2019 general elections. No wonder we are seeing another make-over happening. This time, the Love Guru avatar. Rahul Gandhi, who is all poised to spread love around in the cruel, bad world of politics.
Last Friday's No-Confidence Motion debate may have been about Andhra Pradesh for the TDP members. But for the Congress it was just another platform for yet another image make-over of Rahul Gandhi. The walk to the PM's seat in Lok Sabha and the awkward hug was meant to grab headlines. And grab it did. Except that it got hyphenated with the wink. It's another matter that till recently RaGa was mocking at Narendra Modi's hugs with world leaders even calling it 'Hugplomacy' in his tweets.
The Congress strategists seem to be shooting in the dark in their search for that perfect image which could make him the true challenger to Narendra Modi.
Whether the impact of this new image sustains longer than the earlier ones would be known after some time. Meanwhile, it would be interesting to watch whether this latest Love Guru one is 'THE IMAGE' till 2019 or are there more make-overs in the offing.
(Smita Mishra, Adviser, Prasar Bharati)
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