Well-meaning yes, but Rahul Gandhi needs to convince people with hands-on leadership than online conversations
It is tough to be in Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s shoes these days. For no matter what his best intentions are, nobody buys his attempt to mean serious business in COVID-19 times. Or his effort to be a credible determinant of national revival as a concerned citizen-volunteer. The timing of the makeover is a tad too late, howsoever eager and convincing he might want to appear. Even if he does get the Congress’ reins, there’s a long way before he gets taken seriously as a national alternative. The way he handled the last Lok Sabha debacle of the Congress, barely able to demonstrate proof that his leadership did work in reinvigorating India’s grand old party, hasn’t been lost on people’s minds, even among those willing to give him the benefit of doubt. Recalcitrance, of the kind he demonstrated by resigning and hiding in the woods of Wayanad simply because the old guard didn’t go along with him, didn’t show him up as a leader who could rebuild. Or take everybody along step by step despite the odds. Rather he was seen as a quitter who had plunged the Congress into a cesspool of stagnation topped by the residue of dynastic politics. Over months of absence from political life and pushing himself into an abyss of irrelevance meant he became the subject of public ridicule. Loyalist partymen may have tried projecting him as their prince but his wilful transgressions over the months have only lent credence to the BJP’s campaign of him being a “Pappu.” So though he is crafting an image change in the middle of a pandemic, appearing to contribute to the national revival effort, it’s not reaping results. Particularly at a time when capable leaders of the Congress have proven their mettle as Chief Ministers in the battle against the pandemic, be it Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot or Punjab’s Amarinder Singh. Both incidentally are the old guard. So though Rahul has been making the right projections about the COVID-19 crisis in India since February and justifiably raised some questions before the Government on social media, his party colleagues on the ground got all the attention. Besides, the Opposition Chief Ministers, too, are going out an arm and a leg to contain the disease spiral and Rahul, at this point of time, doesn’t seem hands-on enough. Even his think tank-like advisories seem too tutored and self-serving than well-meaning.
But to his credit, his recent attempts have been at least sincere. He performed creditably at a recent press conference, too, where he refused to be baited by journalists into commenting on the shortcomings of the lockdown. The Congress’ latest plan to rebrand him as a serious ideologue and a thinking leader will see him participate in a series of online conversations with public intellectuals, the idea being to strip down his dynastic entitlements and project him as a leader who has every issue in his grasp. The first of these publicised dialogues got off with economist and former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan. Not entirely a bad one as Rajan made some specific observations about a post-COVID scenario, like an infusion of Rs 65,000 crore for the poor. But the point is Rajan has already made revival recommendations on various fora and will probably be heard and consulted. He won’t need Rahul’s forum to establish his credentials. On the other hand, when Rajan asked him to compare the response to COVID in India and the US, all Rahul could come up with was the social inequity in our country in getting treatment. Clearly, his critics made mincemeat of him for not seeing through the US oversight of the situation, Trump’s flip flops and absurd theories and that nation’s own discriminatory tests. Perhaps Rajan was a bit taken aback, too. And if the Congress had thought that appropriating Rajan would mean taking on the BJP, the economist himself was reasonably careful not to fall into that trap and said things like they should be at this moment of crisis. The Congress shouldn’t try to make Rahul look “sharp” and then land with a PR disaster. Experts from India feature in world institutions and the Government could requisition their services anytime in rebuilding the nation. Rahul’s conversations won’t change that. But what he and his strategists must do is to diminish the trust deficit in him as a leader and build on his natural strengths like when he did padayatras and entered people’s homes. Perhaps, he could lead a pan-India Congress community kitchen and health camp project to help the poor and migrants and rebuild the human touch that he had lost over the last few months. Perhaps, he could take up cases of starting up local economies. He has enough advisors, too, he just needs to show that he can be a leader through such simple connects.
Saturday, 02 May 2020 | Pioneer
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