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'Rahul Gandhi losing the perception battle, needs a media advisor'

January 24, 2014 22:00 IST

The Congress’s communication department and strategists have failed to project the Nehru-Gandhi scion in the right light, say members of Team Rahul. Anita Katyal reports

Under constant attack from the press, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is being counselled by his well-wishers to appoint a personal media advisor to shore up his image in the run-up to the coming Lok Sabha elections.

Sources close to the Congress vice-president told that the suggestion had come up in discussions on the media perception about Rahul Gandhi when compared to Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Aam Admi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal.

Rahul Gandhi’s aides pointed to a recent episode to underline the need for a media advisor.

The January 17 meeting of the All India Congress Committee was hijacked by party leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “tea vendor” remark on Narendra Modi. The media, obviously, highlighted this sound byte, which even threatened to overshadow the session.

What made matters worse was when Rahul Gandhi, in his speech, singled out Mani Shankar Aiyar and praised his work on panchayati raj. “This gave the impression that Rahul Gandhi endorsed Aiyar’s views on Modi,” said a senior Congress leader.

This would not have happened if the communication department had been alert and warned Rahul Gandhi about Aiyar’s remark on Modi.

“If Rahul Gandhi had an efficient media advisor, he would not have been put in such an awkward situation,” said a Rahul aide.           

According to Team Rahul’s internal assessment, the party’s communication department and strategists have failed to project the Nehru-Gandhi scion in the right light. Consequently, Rahul Gandhi has been losing the perception battle. He is not taken seriously and is constantly derided and criticised for his statements and conduct.

Highly reliable Congress sources told that Rahul Gandhi is not happy with the functioning of the party’s communications department. There is a growing view that over the past few years the department failed to communicate the achievements of the United Progressive Alliance government, stem the growing criticism against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or place Rahul Gandhi’s views and statements in the right perspective.

According to a member of Team Rahul, the Congress vice-president was the “original angry young man, the ‘outsider’ who was on a mission to bring about systematic changes in the way politics is practiced.

Rahul Gandhi, it was pointed out, has been speaking about the empowerment of the common man and the party worker, and giving them a greater say in the party’s decision-making process. He spoke in the same vein at the January 17 AICC meeting.   

Yet, it is AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal who has appropriated this image and plank. Rahul Gandhi’s aides pointed out that if the party’s communication department had done its work, this would not have happened.

Long before Kejriwal arrived on the scene, it was Rahul Gandhi who had been talking about involving the common man in the political process.  

“Recall the tone and tenor of his elections speeches during the last Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, the manner in which he tore up a copy of a rival party’s election manifesto. But all this to little avail,” a Congress leader said, adding that the communication department failed to project this in the right light.

According to Rahul Gandhi’s strategists, Narendra Modi’s speeches lacked substance as he failed to spell out his vision on specific issues but nobody questioned him in this regard. On the other hand, the Congress vice-president has taken a position on issues like the Land Acquisition Act, ordinance on convicted MPs and the recent Supreme Court judgment striking down the Delhi high court's order on homosexual intercourse, but it all went unnoticed.  

“Modi’s speeches are so hollow... he never addresses specific issues or policies. For instance, nobody knows about his economic vision or his views on reservation. But nobody highlights this fact,” said a Team Rahul member.

On the flip side, it is argued, that Rahul Gandhi has not helped his own case and he is equally to blame for the present state of affairs. Not only has he been inaccessible to the media but he is also perceived to be far removed from party workers.

In addition, he has not been consistent in his approach. He would often raise an issue but would soon lose interest in it and would not be heard for weeks. Rahul Gandhi is now making an effort to change this perception.  But it may be a proverbial case of too little, too late.

Anita Katyal in New Delhi