Millennium Post

The art of vote-seeking

Communication is an art.  In a market economy,  all arts can be purchased. There are communication professionals or spin-doctors aplenty, leaving aside those who call themselves communication strategist by virtue of their stint with media. Leaders who have access to money can hire the best from among such PR professionals. With their hand holding one may feel that even a novice may emerge as a successful leader. For example, one may cite the success of one-term senate member Barack Obama, who swept the US presidential election defeating all big wigs in his own party and also the then ruling Republicans.

 Rahul Gandhi, the Congress vice-president, started his campaign for the family heirloom following the prescriptions of PR textbooks. He was seen having food in villages at homes of poor villagers, even spending nights on a charpoi. He travelled as pillion rider in search of poverty. He travelled on a train.  Even foreign VIPs, business magnate were seen on poverty tourism round with Rahul Gandhi. Media dutifully highlighted all events. Live telecasting, prominently placed newspaper photographs were part of the well-planned PR campaign.

 He also spoke on occasions in Lok Sabha. His Kalawati speech on Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, though mired by unruly scenes in the house, remained an oft-quoted performance. Rahul Gandhi’s core team was careful in exposing the star client only under controlled environment. His ‘victory’ at Niyamgiri in Orissa where his appearance against the bauxite-mining project orchestrated subsequent refusal of environmental clearance was another well-planned execution. Rahul Gandhi had told the tribals that in him they had a voice in Delhi.

But such stage-managed events did not work wonders in electoral politics. The general election of 2009 did use his face in Congress publicity materials. How much of the success could be attributed to the good look of Rahul remained a question. The first five years of Manmohan Singh government  had a dream run. Two additional factors enthused the country in his favour. The strong political decision to show the communists their place and passing the Indo-US nuclear treaty won over middle class. Next came the terrorist attack in Mumbai. People rallied in support of Congress-led UPA. Spin-doctors did not have much room to manouevre in favour of Rahul Gandhi.

However, the enthusiasm remained and took a new shape. It was believed that Manmohan Singh would pass on the baton to a young R.ahul Gandhi. In Congress, too, Rahul started taking decisions. He took centre stage in two critical state elections – Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.  Many believed that the young one from the family of prime ministers will win and reverse the Congress fortune in both these states in the Hindi heartland.

The professional support of the aspirant failed to deliver. Bihar went to BJP-JD(U) combine. Uttar Pradesh opted for a young leader, Akhilesh son of Mulayam Singh Yadav. So overwhelming had been the rejection of Rahul’s Congress in both these state elections that others had to accept responsibility. The stigma of failure should not have touched the young leader. Subsequent elections in certain politically less sensitive states could not help much in erasing the sad memories of Bihar and UP. The historic win of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, then in coalition with Rahul’s Congress, did not offer any solace. Mamata was careful in not hosting any family member to intrude into pitch she had built singlehanded.

 There could have been many more PRable occasions. Uttarakhand flood offered it. Unfortunately the cloud had to burst when Rahul Gandhi had to go abroad to celebrate his birthday. He could not have attacked his own government on burning issues like 2G, Adarsh Society or Coal scams.

  Spin-doctors had to keep quiet. The opportunity came at last in the form of an Ordinance approved by the Cabinet. The majority view was that convicted politicians who were looking to get bailed out through the Ordinance should not get the benefit. The politically shrewd President of India knew it well. He asked questions before approving the same.

 Rahul’s PR machinery saw the opportunity. He rushed to New Delhi’s Press Club, gate crashed into an event of Congress spokesman Maken and rubbished the Ordinance.  Meanwhile the delirious spin-doctors kept on positioning their client. Unfortunately politics is not exactly selling toothpaste. The move backfired. Instead of creating, it damaged Rahul Gandhi’s image rather badly.

 Why did the spinning machinery fail to project Rahul while Narendra Modi is creating history? Some say this is because of APCO, a lobbying agency from USA. Apparently they are coaching Modi on what to say where. If that is so one must say that APCO’s understanding of Indian culture, history, politics and current affairs is spectacular. If the consultants of a PR agency could think of the link between Gujarat and Yadavs they deserve to rule the country, not merely earn PR fee. If they can advise Modi on how to gauge the mood of the huge gathering and say what they want to hear, clearly differentiating his theme from one rally to the other, they should cross over and help Rahul Gandhi. The fee will be more there.

 Speeches to enthuse people, to arouse their feeling cannot be conceived on laptops only. One must know the soil before connecting with people. One must know how not to hurt the sentiment of the target group. Rahul Gandhi or his advisors have been demonstrating their utter lack of understanding of the ground realities. Take his comment on Muslim youths being roped in by the Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Any Muslim will view this as an insult.

 Politics is complex. Here a potential national leader must have the ability to read minds of people who are fragmented in terms of caste, religion, language, economic condition and culture. No PR strategist can guide a leader who does not have his feet on the ground.
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