'The trick in a democratic battle is to highlight those aspects of one's personality which are the opposite of the 'enemy's',' argues Amulya Ganguli.
The only time when Rahul Gandhi's supporters might have believed that he had emerged as a mature politician who could take a successful shot at being the prime minister was during his interactions with academics and the media at Berkeley in the US in September, 2017.
It appeared then that he had shed his Pappu image of being an adolescent -- in fact, he referred to this unkind nickname given to him by the BJP in Berkeley, showing that he had become confident enough to laugh at himself and at his adversaries.
This process of being a cool, self-assured, individual was evident again in the Gujarat assembly elections towards the end of 2017 when the Congress's campaign led by him gave the BJP a run for its money, reducing its tally of seats to 99 from 115.
The BJP had such a scare at one time that its top honchos accused Manmohan Singh and Hamid Ansari of being in league with Pakistan to warn Gujaratis of the threat which the Congress posed.
The Congress's success story continued in 2018 when it won the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
But, then, the party's luck ran out and it has been all downhill since its drubbing in the 2019 general election.
From all accounts, Rahul has lost his 'passion', an attribute which Barack Obama thought he did not have anyway.
He is now back to tweeting and disappearing abroad.
Why did Rahul succumb so easily to the 2019 setback?
Arguably, having been brought up with the idea, instilled in him by his mother, that the prime ministership is his for the asking, he finds it difficult to accept a prolonged period when he remains on the sidelines.
The same mindset as when he vanished for nearly two months may be guiding him again.
The desire for a sabbatical is also perhaps the outcome of the fact that he simply does not have any idea of how to cope with a prolonged adversarial condition.
Nor does he have a party which is ideologically and organizationally capable of meeting a challenge.
Instead, as the steady desertions to the BJP show, it mainly comprises time-servers who are forever ready to jump ship in search of greener pastures.
A possible reason for having had such fair-weather friends aboard is the absence of an ideological glue.
There is little doubt that Rahul contributed to this fluid, unformed doctrinal state by playing the 'soft' Hindutva card to hoodwink the people into believing that the Congress was a milder version of the BJP.
Instead, it was seen as cynical and rootless.
But, there was apparently no one in the Congress to tell Rahul that his supposedly clever dissimulation will be of no use.
If the prime minister is believed to listen to no one, it is the same with the namdar shahzeda (prince with a heritage), as Narendra Damodardas Modi likes to call Rahul.
The backfiring of the 'soft' Hindutva trick means that the Congress will not find it easy to revive its traditional Nehruvian secularism.
If the party tries to do so, it will be seen as yet another ruse.
Herein lies one of Rahul's problems and he doesn't have the intellect or the energy either to chart a new course or outline the pristine features of his great grandfather's dogma.
However, the trick in a democratic battle is to highlight those aspects of one's personality which are the opposite of the 'enemy's'.
Since Modi is perceived as full of himself, a projection of his adversary as humble and well-meaning can strike a chord.
Rahul does this occasionally as when he sat on the pavement with a group of migrant labourers.
It was an act of unpretentiousness which riled the BJP so much that Nirmala Sitharaman lost no time to decry it as a photo-op.
The BJP is clearly aware of its own weaknesses.
It knows that hoi polloi appreciates modesty and simplicity and is put off by showmanship such as an act of vanity like a new mansion for the prime minister.
In the absence of an ideological and organisational back-up, what can be done is for the Congress to play on these palpably weak points of the BJP.
But, to do so, what is needed is an application of the mind.
It's not ideology alone which wins political battles, but also psychology.
Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs.
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/ Rediff.com