In the last stretch before the elections, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi seems to have suddenly shifted gears. There is an effort to communicate, be more visible, and an energetic ad blitz centred around just Rahul — no Sonia Gandhi, no Priyanka Gandhi and no Manmohan Singh.
His backers say the prime minister’s announcement that he is no longer in contention for the top job seems to have unshackled Rahul, who until then had been asked to respect boundaries by his mother Sonia. The last time Rahul breached that limit was when he announced the ordinance to save convicted lawmakers from disqualification should be “torn up and thrown away”. This was when Prime Minister Singh was abroad, and Sonia spoke to him later to say she had told her son this was not the way to voice dissent.
The Rahul team feels that had it not been for this need to respect limits, he would have been able to respond strongly to the challenge posed by the Aam Aadmi Party, while others say “he could easily have prevailed but chose not to”. “There will always be two views on everything,” says Satyavrat Chaturvedi, MP. “He was busy with organisational work. Now with elections close, he has to interact with the people.”
The belief in the Rahul camp that Kejriwal hijacked their agenda and their target support base is at the heart of the project to repackage Rahul and reclaim the perceived “lost space”. With his anointment as the head of the party’s campaign comes a remodelled strategy based on the abbreviation NRMB (non-rich, non-middle class, non-BPL). This, according to Congress strategists, represents 70 crore people comprising largely the unskilled and semi-skilled, service-providing population below the middle class.
The effort took off with a rather choreographed interaction with street vendors beamed live on TV in what is tied to the idea of an open manifesto-making process — again a leaf out of Kejriwal’s book, but one that Rahul’s aides claim was in fact their idea but which hadn’t found traction in the Congress. Rahul plans similar meetings with domestic workers and construction workers. “He will focus on class politics rather than caste politics,” a senior leader said.
Then came his appearance at Jantar Mantar to join agitating students from the Northeast. This again was part of an attempt to reclaim the perceived space ceded to the AAP. It’s not that he has not identified himself with popular issues in the past, cases in point being his involvement in the Bhatta-Parsaul agitation and his support to Niyamgiri tribals. In Delhi, however, he had been silent during protests over the gangrape of a student in a bus, the debate over the Lokpal Bill, and the flight home of northeasterners who continued…