Putting up a brave face after the Congress’s disastrous performance in the Uttar Pradesh (UP) state elections last year, party vice president Rahul Gandhi whole heartedly owned the responsibility for the loss. The face of Congress’s campaign in the state, the Gandhi scion acknowledged that their weak fundamentals were to be blamed for the defeat. After faring poorly even in the party’s stronghold constituencies such as Amethi and Rae Bareli, the visibly dejected leader said, "the result is a good lesson for me".
Almost a year has passed since then. With the Lok Sabha polls merely a couple of months away, the Congress’s campaign, headed by its vice president, is in a haywire. ‘Brand Rahul’ is slowly wallowing. At a time when newcomer Arvind Kejriwal and the front runner Narendra Modi are the talk of the town, Gandhi is lost amidst the entire hustle bustle. The young leader, it seems, has taken little lesson out of the beating in UP.
To begin with, Gandhi has been completely unable to connect with the voters unlike his contemporaries. Although he has shared meals with the Dalits, conducted sit-ins with farmers and had had lengthy interactions with rickshaw pullers, he is yet to build a rapport with the mass. His competitors, on the other hand, have been hugely successful on this front. While Kejriwal with his aam aadmi image has massively appealed to the lower and middle class voters, Modi has been successful in wooing the business community as well as the lower/middle class thanks to his humble beginnings as a chai wallah (tea vendor) and lately due to his credentials in Gujarat. Unfortunately for the young leader, his attempts to woo the mass have come across as a mere publicity stunt. This is primarily because his ‘visits’ and ‘sit ins’ have been sporadic and are never really followed up putting a question mark on its genuinity. Add to that, his aura as a Congress ‘prince’ gives an impression that he isn’t the exact ‘people’s leader’ the Indian voters can connect with. Gandhi’s attempt to woo the business community, too, has also been a big letdown. His rare address to the country’s top business leaders last year was a damp squib and did not touch upon any pressing issues such as inflation, sagging foreign investment or the series of corruption scandals which have tainted his party.
The Congress vice president’s incoherent views on the Indian economy, foreign policy and domestic issues have also largely contributed to the failure of ‘Brand Rahul’. When enquired, Gandhi often talks about his long term vision of India; that of making India an economic powerhouse, bringing a systemic revolution and giving voice to a billion people. However, he fails to go into the specifics. His political immaturity and elusiveness was clearly visible in a recent interview given to an Indian news channel where the young leader fumbled upon questions regarding contentious issues such as the 1984 Sikh riots. When asked about corruption charges against his own party’s Chief Ministers Virbhadra Singh and Ashok Chavan, he naively blamed corruption on the failed system without giving a solution. The fact that he has preferred to stay mum on many major issues such as the numerous scams surrounding UPA , the rising inflation during the Congress rule, the Jan Lokpal movement and the recent cases of women violence speaks of Gandhi’s inexperience and lack of ideas. Unlike Kejriwal and Modi, whose dynamic promotion strategy includes extensive usage of social/digital media, Gandhi still shies away from them. This complete opacity has done little to help him communicate his ideas to the mass.
‘Brand Rahul’ has also been a big let-down because the Gandhi scion has little achievements to his credentials. The Congress leader has little to show for the work he has done apart from raising voice on RTI, championing women empowerment and a few changes he has brought about within the Youth Congress. Compared to his arch rival Modi or even Kejriwal, he stands nowhere. Despite making promises of revamping the party, Gandhi, who climbed up the party ladder defying the merit based promotion, hasn’t been able to usher in any substantial changes. With hardly any success story under his belt, he has little to exemplify his worth.
The Congress, earlier this year, roped in two PR giants in order brush up Gandhi’s image and to bolster the party’s election campaign. But it might be too late now. The Congress vice president has missed numerous opportunities to prove his worth. Leave alone the mass, Gandhi, who rose on the plank of being a youth leader, is facing flak from the youths themselves. ‘Brand Rahul’ will definitely not be the messianic savior for Congress, unless it gets a miraculous revival.