The corruption scandals that have rocked the Congress party led government at the Centre in rapid succession – 2 G scam, Commonwealth games scam, ISRO-Devas deal, Hasan Ali case, money stashed abroad in foreign banks etc. etc.– have taken the sheen off not just Manmohan Singh but also that of the mother-son duo Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Much of the muck has stuck to the Gandhis as Manmohan Singh is considered to be personally honest and a figurehead prime minister appointed by the Gandhis.
The fading away of Rahul aura is not just conjectural; it is visible in the public sphere. In Bihar elections where Rahul campaigned vigorously, his party came a cropper with a humiliating tally of just four seats. In the ongoing state elections, Rahul’s public meetings have been very poorly attended even in a state like Kerala where the Congress party is widely expected to return to power after five years.
After the Bihar rout, the Congress party appears headed for a disaster in the next year’s assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, where Rahul Gandhi is credited to have revived the Congress party which resulted in an impressive performance in 2009 Lok Sabha polls. In what may be construed as a sign of desperation, the Congress party is now warming up to the Mulayam Singh Yadav led Samajwadi party to save its existence.
In Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the scam-hit Congress party was forced to agree to the humiliating terms set forth by its allies namely the DMK and Trinamul Congress. In the crucial state of Andhra Pradesh – the state contributed the maximum number of seats in the last two Lok Sabha elections for the Congress party – the break-away YSR Congress party of Y.S.Jaganmohan Reddy and a resurgent Telangana agitation are threatening the very survival of the Congress party’s existence in the state’s politics.
All in all, Rahul Gandhi’s grandiose plan of reviving the Congress party in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and containing its allies in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Maharashtra to achieve a single party majority for the Congress party in 2014 elections is clearly going nowhere.
Brand Building Efforts
Rahul Gandhi is one of the most assiduously built political brands anywhere in the world. The “brand promotion” package included night stays in Dalit homes, visits to interior hamlets, interactions with youth in college campuses across the country, watching sports from commoner stalls etc. etc.
All these orchestrated attempts were aimed at projecting the image of Rahul Gandhi - born into the world’s best known political dynasty – as a worthy leader who has earned his position by hard work, merit and not merely through inheritance.
With dollops of help from a large section of friendly media, the image building efforts seemed to have succeeded, at least partially, in establishing Rahul Gandhi as the next generation leader that India was eagerly awaiting. Most political pundits had concluded that under Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party’s future political success was guaranteed and that the opposition lacked in its ranks a leader to counter Rahul Gandhi’s appeal.
That Rahul’s is a case of much noise and less substance is evident from his poor track record as a parliamentarian. In his stint as a Lok Sabha M.P, Rahul rarely spoke in Parliament. When he did, he made no impression.
His comments outside on a variety of subjects show his shallow understanding of complex problems and his inability to distinguish between his party’s political interests and the supreme national interest. Rahul Gandhi’s observations made to the then United States ambassador Timothy Roemer that the growth of 'radicalised Hindu groups' was a bigger threat to the country than the activities of terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayiba is a case in point.
Even on corruption, his statements have been wishy-washy. In an interaction with students of Santiniketan in West Bengal last year, Rahul Gandhi had said, "I know there is corruption. Corruption is everywhere... people like you should come forward. Tell me the solution."
WikiLeaks cables only confirm what is talked in hush-hush tones in political and journalistic circles about Rahul Gandhi’s political capital. Here are the excerpts from the U.S. diplomatic cables quoting veteran journalist Saeed Naqvi: “…the word among Congress insiders, including those in the coterie surrounding Sonia Gandhi, is that Rahul will never become Prime Minister for several reasons…it is increasingly common knowledge that Rahul suffers from ""personality problems"" of an emotional or psychological nature that are severe enough to prevent him from functioning as PM…Gandhi dynastic politics had no future, as the family has run out of prime ministerial candidates with appropriate charisma….the common impression among Congress insiders is that Rahul is far below even his father in political ability.”
Dispatching the above diplomatic cable, David Mulford, the then U.S. ambassador to India commented in the cable, “Given this publicity machine that Rahul enjoys, we, unlike Naqvi, are not yet prepared to write him off just yet.”
Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, former Supreme Court judge who recently wrote a letter to Rahul Gandhi complaining about corruption in central government seems to have understood Rahul’s limitations. He said, "He (Rahul Gandhi) has nothing new to say to this country. He is not a socialist by conviction. He has no ideology at all. Such a person when he goes in the villages, people out of curiosity come to see this man."
Any marketing professional would tell you that publicity can only help in building a brand to some extent. It is the intrinsic worth of a product that assures its lasting success. Rahul Gandhi seems to be woefully lacking in this respect. With the gloss wearing out, Rahul Gandhi’s political flight seems to be sputtering on the tarmac before a take off.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a well known poll analyst.