Over the past decade, Rahul Gandhi has been launched and relaunched, packaged and repackaged several times over.
Yet, the brand has failed to move off the electoral shelf.
A smart company that knows the dynamics of the market and understands consumer behaviour would have by now cut its losses and decided to phase out the product from the market. But, trust the Congress to step up production and make yet another attempt to push his acceptability among voters. Over the past week, Congress state units have been reportedly competing with each other to have Rahul Gandhi declared as their leader and chief ministerial candidate.
On Sunday, the local Congress committee put up posters in Gorakhpur depicting him as a cop who would decimate the Opposition in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.
In the posters, Opposition leaders were asked to get ready to witness “a government of good governance” in the state that they “looted for 27 years”. Morphed images of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, BSP chief Mayawati, BJP state president Keshav Prasad Maurya and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi are shown with folded hands, seeking “forgiveness”, The Indian Express reported.
By sheer happenstance or coordinated strategy, reports of the Congress considering Rahul Gandhi as its chief ministerial candidate in the state were attributed to Prashant Kishor, the poll strategist burdened with the responsibility of reviving the Congress in UP. Rahul as the face of the UP Congress is not a new idea. It has been tried and tested in the past with similar results: Rejection.
In 2007, the Congress contested the polls with Rahul Gandhi as the face of the campaign. The party did not project a chief ministerial candidate and went to the voters seeking votes for Rahul bhaiyya. The outcome: Twenty-two seats.
In 2012, the buzz around the Congress was louder. In the previous Lok Sabha elections, the party had unexpectedly won 20 seats. So, the expectations from the Assembly polls were higher. Yet again, Rahul bhaiyya was the face of the campaign. He started in November, much before the schedule was announced, travelled extensively and even managed to win the endorsement of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind. The crowds at his road shows indicated the party would pull off a miracle, others expected it to double its tally. The result: Only 26 seats with 11.6 percent of the votes.
How many more times can the Congress hard-sell Rahul to voters in UP?
The problem with the Congress is not that it is losing elections because Rahul Gandhi is not being projected as the leader. The party is shrinking by the day because of its insistence on projecting him as the leader. Indian voters have shown several times they want less, not more, of him.
Ideally, after being decimated in 2014, the Congress should have been looking at life beyond Rahul Gandhi. Its leaders should have realised they have no future under their current vice-president and should have looked at alternatives. Now, with two vital years wasted, the time to groom a new leader has passed them by.
Speak to any Congress leader and worker in private and their only hope is that the BJP will self-destruct by 2019 and hand over power on a platter to the Congress. Others live on the perennial hope that Priyanka Gandhi will soon replace her brother and lead the Congress. Finding a Rahul Gandhi supporter, discovering workers who think he will lead them to a win in 2019 is like hoping Kamal R Khan will someday deliver a Rs 100-crore hit.
For a very brief period, after he returned from his sabbatical last year, there was a glimmer of hope that he may have finally taken the leap from mediocrity to electoral greatness. His speeches appeared sharp, the barbs lethal and body language more confident. But, he soon relapsed into his guerrilla politics — suddenly surfacing at stirs and public movements, attacking the government and then retreating — indicating that he has no strategy of his own. Much to the voter’s chagrin and frustration, he has not offered a single original idea. He has always been keen to benefit from the struggles and politics of others.
His hyperbole about reinventing the Congress as a party of workers, ridding it of dynasts has also been exposed as a farce. Notice how he jettisoned the idea of party primaries, organisational polls after choosing Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, Milind Deora as key state leaders.
On Monday, when he was being talked about as the face of its UP campaign, party spokesperson Jairam Ramesh rejected the argument. “He can’t be the CM candidate for 29 states,” Ramesh said.
The current political scenario suggests Ramesh is right. Rahul Gandhi, in his current avatar, is unlikely to be accepted as chief minister of any of the Indian states — not UP, not MP, not even Goa, Meghalaya or Pondicherry.
Strategists like Kishor can continue to create artificial demand for him. But the truth is India has moved beyond Brand Rahul Gandhi.
Several other electoral products like Arvind Kejriwal and Nitish Kumar are looking promising and smart buyers are watching them closely.