Ever since the Gujarat elections, Rahul Gandhi has come across as more aggressive, more focused, more articulate and more confident. This may have to do with the fact that the polls at the end of last year coincided with his formal takeover as the party president. No one had any doubts that Gandhi would be the next party leader — he was a key decision-maker even before becoming president — but formal transitions are important because they establish a clear chain of command and enable a leader to institutionalise changes. In Gujarat, the Congress put up a creditable performance. The Karnataka election outcome would have disappointed the party but post-poll dynamics reflected Gandhi’s ability to take quick decisions, and his offer to the Janata Dal (Secular) to lead a coalition surprised the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Over the past month-and-a-half, Gandhi has intensified his public messaging and personal outreach, particularly in Delhi, which wields influence far beyond its size. His parliamentary speech had drawn mixed responses. Some found it over-the-top; others saw it as his ability to understand the power of imagery and capture attention with sharp aggression. His narrative of love and forgiveness, and combating hatred, is distinct. Gandhi has also met Muslim intellectuals, women journalists and his own party spokespersons who engage in the public sphere to push and construct a narrative against the Narendra Modi government in election year.

All of this has added greater intensity to the political competition underway. But he has a long way to go before this translates into electoral capabilities and strength. He and his team would do well to keep the following in mind. One, elections will eventually be fought on the ground, in the booths. Even as Gandhi has been aggressive in Delhi, in precisely the same period, BJP chief Amit Shah has completed electoral preparations in all 29 states by holding organisational meetings. The Congress, which is organisationally far weaker, needs to strengthen its game on the ground. Two, while Gandhi has successfully punctured the inaccurate and mischievous interpretation of him as a ‘Pappu’, the battle to project himself as a mature leader ready to take on the Prime Ministerial mantle remains. The lack of administrative record here is a handicap. The BJP’s line of attack will focus on this inexperience and allegations of ‘immaturity’. And finally, Gandhi needs a stronger and more coherent and constructive political message. Emphasis on fighting rivals without hating them is ethically sound but will not affect electoral choices, for it does not speak to the everyday concerns of millions of voters. Getting organisation, personal perception and message right remain his three big challenges.

First Published: Jul 30, 2018 13:16 IST

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