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CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

 

FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DESK
SEEMA MUSTAFA | 3 FEBRUARY, 2014

Congress scion Rahul Gandhi is a nice guy. He is polite, clearly well brought up, gentle, non-aggressive, nicely naïve, and as many of the young girls insists, even good looking. "Cute", one believes is the appropriate word. He is the kind of chap parents would not mind their daughters bringing home, in fact would love it; a fun person for friends; and given his close ties with his family, a good 'family man' as Indians like to describe their menfolk.

But all this assets disappear and re-emerge as negatives when the vice president of the Congress party speaks on politics. And since he is a politician leading the oldest party of India, and aspiring to be Prime Minister someday, his naivety turns into ignorance bordering on stupidity; his non-aggressive demeanour becomes a huge liability; his gentle smile becomes inane and vacant; and the persona that parents would embrace wholeheartedly becomes a personality that the electorate ridicules and is clearly not comfortable with.

Is the Congress party being unfair to the Nerhu-Gandhi family by insisting on being led by it, even when the current family is clearly inept for the job? Congress president Sonia Gandhi is visibly unhappy outside Delhi, and rarely visits other parts of the country we know as India. Her daughter Priyanka excited Congress members with her every appearance, with the media too frenetically examining the possibilities of her entry into active politics, but clearly she is a teaser and is not going to take the plunge. Besides her charisma has been tried out in Amethi and Rae Bareilly that she manages for her brother and mother respectively, and has not really worked beyond a point. Currently there is talk of the Congress losing Amethi despite her close attention to this parliamentary constituency in Uttar Pradesh.

But Rahul Gandhi seems to be the problem for the Congress. Not as a person of course, but as a politician. He tries very hard, and to be fair has been actually trying to shed the image of reticence by re-working his speeches, and his relations with the media. His address at the meeting of the All India Congress Committee recently was seen as a great performance by his party which otherwise is used to 'Rahul ji's' rather lacklustre, hesitant speeches. But the newfound enthusiasm dissipated rather rapidly when, on a roll, his media managers and publicists decided to launch him for an interview that they could not fully control. The questions were not particularly difficult but appeared so because of the vague, hesitant and increasingly faulty answers. These should have been expected by the media managers, and perhaps were, but somehow Gandhi dissolved before viewers' eyes into a rumbling, non-confident leader. Reports now suggest that a more pliable channel has been brought in for damage control, and another interview given that should be telecast soon.

Somehow those managing Rahul Gandhi over-estimate him. If he wants to persist in politics he, and his advisors, must realise the good ever-young image does not work for him. And he has to change this to a more defining image of a decision maker. If not, the Congress can sing a swan song for him, and for itself as it will cease to exist without a Nehru-Gandhi leader at the helm. He needs to play more of the decisive man, and less of the young boy (which he is certainly not.) He has to get new speech writers, as the 'my family' sacrifices has been overdone ad nauseam. It does not sound good any more, just boring, tiring and evasive. Also "I am this new face" jargon does not work either. For instance he does not need to have been an adult in 1984 to know about the massacre of Sikhs, there is something called history, right? And he is no longer 'new' really, it is just that his prowess in the field has been so slow that he does not appear old in the job. Again, this continuous carping about the Congress party, and how the system needs to be changed, has lost its zing a long while ago as the question everyone is asking is why he did not change it all since he is in a position of authority.

The Congress scion needs to take a position on issues. India and her electorate have moved far beyond what his speech writers and advisors are willing to concede, with the young electorate responding only to direct stands and positions. Narendra Modi is able to make some inroads because he appears to be speaking a direct language (although to wise old crows like us that is not at all true), but Gandhi does not even give the necessary appearance of doing so. He needs a speech written with his personality in mind perhaps, but one that is able to pinpoint and articulate issues clearly and categorically. He then has to be trained to ensure that he follows through without visibly blanching before an adverse reaction.

But this does seem to be a tall order at this stage. And clearly Rahul Gandhi has written himself out of these elections altogether. There seems to be a realisation within the Congress that it will not come to power, and even if it does, it will be as the supporter and not the leader of a coalition. This is one of the reasons why it has extended support to the Aam Admi Party in Delhi, and is staying there despite daily humiliation. The Congress motto seems to have been re-worked as: better to be slightly in, than totally out.