However, Rahul is clearly behind Modi in the race for the aam aadmi. Anita Katyal reports.
While Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has successfully projected himself as the real messiah of the “aam admi”, Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi are vying for the same slot as both try to connect with the common man in their own ways.
Playing up his humble origins at all his public rallies, Modi makes it a point to mention that he started off as a tea vendor and that his mother used to wash utensils to earn a living. In fact, the BJP is building its election campaign “Chai pe charcha” around this by setting up Modi tea stalls across the country.
Rahul Gandhi is obviously in no position to make such claims. But he is making up by undertaking a vigorous outreach drive. The Nehru-Gandhi scion met tea vendors in Delhi a few days ago and followed it up by meeting up with porters at the New Delhi railway station on Tuesday afternoon.
While the porters narrated their problems to the Congress vice-president, Rahul Gandhi assured them that he would try to redress their grievances. The meeting comes a day before the presentation of the Rail budget in the Parliament on Wednesday.
According to the Congress party’s official twitter handle, Rahul Gandhi told the porters, “I want to build a relationship with you, I want to hear your problems in detail. I can only promise one thing. I'll do whatever I can for you, with my heart”.
He promised that he would take their problems to the Railway Ministry so that they could be solved.
With the middle class and youth gravitating towards the BJP and now the AAP, Rahul Gandhi is trying to create a fresh support base for the Congress by wooing the 70 crore people who do not fall into the middle class or BPL categories but are “in between”.
He had spoken at length about reaching out to this section in his speech at the January 17 meeting of the All-India Congress Committee.
He spoke in the same vein in his meeting with the porters on Tuesday. “We want to strengthen the ground beneath this 70 crore people...In India, there are 70 crore people who do different odd jobs, they want to go forward. They want help... My aim is to listen from you, and we will put those views in the Congress manifesto,” he said.
Since his address at the AICC meeting, Rahul Gandhi has held a series of separate interactions with representatives of the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, women and farmers to elicit their suggestions for inclusion in the party’s election manifesto.
Under constant attack for being reclusive and inaccessible, Rahul Gandhi is making a serious attempt at an “image make over” in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections. He has become more communicative, does not shy way from speaking out on key policy issues and has is also more accessible to his own party members. In addition, Rahul Gandhi has met mediapersons in batches and went a step further by giving his first formal interview to Times Now.
Rahul Gandhi has indeed come a long way since he was roundly castigated for his silence on the anti-corruption street protests which had paralysed Delhi over two years ago. Similarly, he had nothing to say when the captial’s youth protested the Nirbhaya rape case.
The Congress vice-president first changed tack when he took a politically bold decision to disagree with the Supreme Court verdict which reversed a high court order decriminalising gay sex.
He has since met with students who were demanding changes in the civil service examination, a demand which was subsequently met. Rahul Gandhi also dropped in on students from the Northeast who were sitting on a dharna at Jantar Mantar to protest the death of a Arunachal Pradesh student in the capital. He took up their grievances with Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde to press for the constitution of a special committee to look into the problems of the students from that region.
Rahul Gandhi had also convened a meeting with chief ministers of Congress-ruled states where an action plan was unveiled to deal with the twin issues of corruption and price rise.
Besides wooing the youth, the Congress vice-president is also projecting himself as an anti-corruption crusader. Not only was Rahul Gandhi given credit for the ensuring that the Lokpal Bill was eventually passed by Parliament, he has since been pushing for the passage of the six pending anti-corruption laws.
All these moves, which have coincided with an aggressive media campaign, are essentially aimed at shoring up the party's image.
However, these efforts could well prove futile as the poor image and low credibility of the Congress party has made it not just difficult, but impossible, for Rahul Gandhi to find wide acceptance.
He has clearly been beaten in this game by Modi. The next three months will prove to be a tough challenge for the Nehru-Gandhi scion as he makes a brave attempt to change the beleaguered Congress party’s fortunes.
Image: A combination photo showing supporters of Narendra Modi cheering for their leader during a BJP rally in Chennai; and Rahul Gandhi listening to woman supporters in Ranchi