Should Rahul be his Father’s Son ?

On Thursday I had the pleasure of dining with NDTV’s Prannoy Roy, probably the last dignified English TV news anchor we have. He was in city with his band of travelling journalists. The group consisted of the popular Author and Banker Ruchir Sharma, Psephologist Dorab Sopariwala, Economist Surjit Bhalla and a few others. They were travelling across Karnataka as part of election coverage and stopped in Mysuru before heading to Bengaluru.

The conversations were a smattering of journalism, corruption in the media, a little bit of media gossip and a lot of election talk. In the course of our meal, Economist Surjit Bhalla, while discussing how effective or ineffective Rahul Gandhi has been in Karnataka asked, “What can Rahul Gandhi change to be more effective?” I didn’t have an answer right away but it got me thinking. So what can Rahul change?

To begin with, he can stop mimicking Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The macho man image suits the Prime Minister. Modi can pull it off. His voice modulation, his body language, his sense of timing when it comes to humour and sarcasm makes him not only an effective communicator but also exudes confidence that people perceive as leadership.

On the other hand, when Rahul tries to match the PM he fails. Rahul’s speeches sound like screeches. His voice is unappealing. His aggression seems unauthentic. His words unconvincing. While our PM speaks and moves like a macho man, Rahul comes across as a chocolate hero.

In today’s hyper-visual media space, all these aspects matter in creating opinions and perceptions. As someone said, watching Modi is like watching Colors TV, full of drama and Rahul is like Comedy Central, full of gaffes.

More importantly, Modi is perceived as a man who can “get things done,” Rahul seems “indecisive.” May be, Rahul should stop trying to mimic Modi or his macho uncle Sanjay Gandhi and become like his father Rajiv Gandhi.

Narendra Modi and Sanjay Gandhi comparison crops up because they both are known to “get things done.” In fact, the legendary journalist Khushwant Singh featured Sanjay Gandhi on the cover of Illustrated Weekly magazine with a headline “Sanjay, the man who gets things done.”

Today Modi is perceived by many as a man  “who can get things done.”  Of course, it’s another matter that Sanjay Gandhi ended up becoming “a man who got things wrong” as he tried to find quick and simple solutions to complex problems.

Incidentally, Sanjay and Modi have many similarities — both obsessed over development and technology. Coincidentally, both helped start the first indigenous Indian cars — Maruti for Sanjay, Tata Nano for Modi. Also both have an image bigger than their party itself. And like Sanjay, Modi is in a hurry to change India, and has faltered like Sanjay — as in the case of demonetisation and hurried implementation of GST.

For now, BJP and millions of Indians have bullied Rahul Gandhi and reduced him to a joke and he has not been very effective in changing that perception. Sadly, for Rahul the Indian middle-class is looking for an authoritarian leader. May be, Congress needs Priyanka to counter Modi.

We may recall how in 2014 elections Priyanka put the BJP on the backfoot with her put-downs and cold remarks. Yes, there is a streak of aggressiveness in her that manifests in a more passionate way than her brother’s. Her stern statements are more effective than Rahul’s shrill bouts of anger. Even her handling of the media is as cold, stern and calculated as Modi’s.

For now, Rahul, while trying to be like Modi and his uncle Sanjay, should realise he is actually like his father. Like Rajiv Gandhi, Rahul too was a reluctant entrant to politics who is unable to break-free from the rules set up by the old fogies in the party. However, unlike his father, who was a quick learner, Rahul perpetually seems a political misfit.

Rajiv Gandhi may have been an “elitist” and a late entrant, but he was himself. May be, Rahul, instead of trying to act like a ‘political brawler,’ can be his ‘soft-spoken’ self. While Modi can be macho, Rahul can still win hearts with calm, well-thought-out and well-articulated arguments. Yes, a soft-spoken Prannoy Roy is as effective, if not more efficient than a brash Arnab Goswami.

But if Rahul insists on being aggressive like Modi in spite of failing at it, may be it is time for dialysis? Remember, a senior Congress leader sometime back pointed out that blood group is connected to being PM in the Gandhi family?! He had said that both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were O-ve (O negative) and they became Prime Ministers. But unfortunately, Sonia and Rahul belong to O+ve (O positive) blood group! But guess, who is O-ve? Priyanka Gandhi.

So, even if Rahul Gandhi fails, Congress has nothing to fear, for Priyanka Gandhi is always there.

e-mail: vikram@starofmysore.com

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