LITTLE LESS CONVERSATION, MR GANDHI

Rahul Gandhi might be getting better with his speeches, but the need of the hour for the Congress is to walk the talk
Hardnews Bureau Delhi 

“Those who have tried to destroy the 3,000-year idea of Congress have themselves got destroyed,” Rahul Gandhi thundered to a packed house of Congressmen, who were perhaps left to wonder if the young Gandhi was referring to Congress or India, or if he was equating the two. As his sister, Priyanka Gandhi, watched him speak from the sidelines, his 45 minute speech at the AICC meet at Talkatora Stadium could have been his best, even surpassing the emotion-laden address at the Chintan Shivir in Jaipur last year. Gandhi made it clear that the battle was not lost yet, and that the Congress had not conceded defeat.He perhaps knew that the biggest job at hand was to boost the morale of the party workers. At least in the hall, it seemed to be working.   

“They are selling combs to bald people,” he took a dig at the BJP. “They are good at marketing,” he continued. Even AAP was not spared. “Some new ones have come who have opened hair saloons for bald people,” he said in an oblique attack on the new party to a cheering crowd, even as UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, sitting on stage, smiled and wondered in failed comprehension until Mukul Wasnik walked up and explained the meaning of the expression her son delivered in Hindi. “Bills were being made on the roads, in the media or by the judiciary,” he continued. “Today, MPs and MLAs have been sidelined in the process of law-making. We have to bring you back into law-making. We need to bring the voice of the elected into the democracy,” he said, adding that packaging and selling politics was taking precedence. Clearly, the grand old party has not been able to counter the campaign launched by the Opposition. And Rahul Gandhi knows it when he says marketing and packaging was taking precedence, although he himself didn’t seem to have much of a clue about what the content would be.

In the second stint since 2009, the Congress party appears to have faltered at all levels. Although at times they seemed to be upfront when it came to dealing with the issue of corruption, when they sent their own ministers and one of their allies packing, including the likes of Pawan Kumar Bansal or A Raja or even the former law minister, Ashwini Kumar, they still give the impression of being a party that condones corruption. The flip-flops and the indecisiveness before caving in to pressure from the media or Opposition allowed all these issues to simmer and add to their negative image.   

Take the case of their response to the Jan Lokpal campaign that was a grand design of the right-wing, with KN Govindacharya, S Gurumurthy, Ramdev et al calling the shots and setting the agenda. The Congress not only gave them space but also heeded to the demand of introducing the bill in Parliament. Nobody would recall that it was the BJP, in cahoots with the Arvind Kejriwal-led group, which ensured that the bill remained stalled. The perception remained that the Congress was not very keen on the idea of a Lokpal.

Further, the fact that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was furiously opposed to the idea of having a Lokayukta in his own state, and that he had been trying to shield his own ministers accused of corruption, didn’t get much airplay. Or the Congress failed pathetically to capitalise on it. The MB Shah Commission is yet to come out with a report on the corruption cases despite numerous extensions. For reasons unknown, and for a very long time, the party’s spokespersons had a clear brief to not attack Narendra Modi.

All this speaks of not only bad political strategy but also a public relations disaster on part of the Congress. The party woke up late to the power of the new media, including the many social media platforms. For a very long time, since the campaigns took shape in 2010, after the Commonwealth games corruption scandals broke, the Congress had little or no presence on Twitter or Facebook. The Gandhi scion seemed reticent and media shy when the leaders of the Opposition were all over the place screaming hoarse across television channels. Many of the party leaders were of the opinion that announcing Rahul Gandhi as the PM candidate would be the right image-building move and could help the Congress get more traction in the media, at least, while another section thought it would amount to falling into the trap laid by the Opposition.    

Meanwhile, the huge gulf between the ‘dissemination of information and the work done’ by the government was felt even when the leaders of the Congress party had converged in Jaipur for the Chintan meet. Not much seemed to have changed in the past one year, with many leaders still complaining that the government had not done enough to ensure that the work done by them was conveyed to everyone. “The state governments showcase the schemes of the central government as their own,” complained a delegate at the AICC session at Talkatora. With just three months to go for the elections, party strategists have now asked all the ministries and departments to compile the achievements so that they can be advertised. But it may prove to be too little too late.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2014