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'Has the Congress Communication department let Rahul Gandhi down? #HellYeah'

Can anybody else tell me how many votes or popular support any other 'leader' in the Congress can fetch?

Shehzad Poonawalla |

Updated:October 21, 2014, 2:02 AM IST
'Has the Congress Communication department let Rahul Gandhi down? #HellYeah'
Can anybody else tell me how many votes or popular support any other 'leader' in the Congress can fetch?

New Delhi: The Maharashtra and Haryana election results would come as another blow for the Congress that faced a huge loss in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. But losing power in a state like Maharashtra, which has, for all but four years between 1995-1999, seen a Congressman as chief minister should surely make the Congress party introspect about the reasons for its defeat. And while many so-called political commentators and out of work, unknown Congress leaders would spring up before TV channels to echo the fashionable BJP line of laying the blame at the doorstep of Rahul Gandhi, something that non-performers in the Congress camp, facing the imminent axe would encourage in hope of gaining some kind of immunity from accountability for their incompetence, it is high time that record it set straight on Rahul Gandhi and his valuable contributions not just to the party but also to the larger political discourse in India.

Firstly, on a purely electoral level, there is no doubt, even today, that the Congress leadership, particularly Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, are the only factors that hold the party together as a cohesive unit and fetch the party over 95 per cent of its votes. Can anybody else tell me how many votes or popular support any other 'leader' in the Congress can fetch?

Commentators on TV, just until yesterday, were blaming Congress party for its over-emphasis on the Gandhis. Today, when the Gandhis, unlike Mr Modi, stay away from government, allow state leaders to emerge, decentralise leadership and have genuine elections in NSUI and Youth Congress, contrary to the BJP which is increasingly becoming a one man show these commentators hail Modi for doing exactly what they criticized the Congress for doing until now!

Even when it comes to addressing the larger issues of corruption and criminalization of politics, the Congress under Rahul Gandhi has progressively taken steps to reduce entry of dubious elements into its political fold. Contrast this with BJP! It was Rahul Gandhi's efforts that resulted in doing away with the RPA ordinance, something for which he is often ridiculed by the BJP that has ensured leaders like Jayalalitha and Lalu Prasad, on conviction, are kept out of Parliament and the assembly. It is a fact that in both states that went to the polls, the Congress thanks to Rahul Gandhi's convictions had, by a considerable margin, the least number of candidates with criminal charges (30 percent) compared to the BJP (53 per cent), Shiv Sena (61 per cent) and NCP (43 per cent). It is also fact that Congress under Rahul Gandhi was the only party amongst all that could boast of candidates with a clean track record on crimes against women whereas despite Mr Modi's assurances on fighting corruption, criminalization of politics and zero tolerance on crimes against women, neither his cabinet nor the choice of BJP's candidates show that they are serious about these issues!

The other hypocrisy in their assessment is also glaring! Many of them say that these verdicts reflect people's disgust against dynastic one family rule and hold Rahul Gandhi responsible for it yet fail to explain their rationalisation of how people, so sick and fed up of dynastic rule, ended up investing their faith in the BJP whose leadership in Maharashtra- be it Poonam Mahajan, Devendra Fadnavis, Pankaja Munde or nationally- Rajnath Singh and his son, Dhumal and his MP son Anurag Thakur, CM Vasundhara Raje and her son Dushyant, Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun, Sushma Swaraj and her sister who lost the MLA election in Haryana and many others, have no better credentials than the so called 'dynastic' Congress on this front? On the contrary it is only Rahul, who despite being a product of "dynastic politics", has done most to usher in people from grassroots, devoid of political affiliations into the Congress mainstream through primaries and free and fair elections.

Contrary to the fashionable trend of blaming all of Congress' misfortunes upon the Gandhi family I believe that it is the Gandhi family that ends up picking up the tab for its incompetent organisational and functional units that need to reform. It is high time that the Congress leadership cracked the whip on non-performers.

The Congress leadership must ask of its organizational and departmental office-bearers, why despite having several advantages in terms of cleaner faces, better agendas and resources, why the party has failed on the front of communication and perception management! Leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Digvijaya Singh and others are right when they say that the BJP is far better at marketing its below-par product. While there is no doubt that the BJP spends massive amounts of its resources on this, the Congress should now seriously examine and introspect why it has miserably failed in this task. It cannot merely bemoan how BJP is better at this aspect! The glaring chinks in Congress' communication armoury need to be fixed, urgently.

In social media, which has played a huge role in shaping up the opinion of crores of first time voters (FTVs), floating voters (FVs), most of whom are young voters, the discourse is heavily lopsided in favour of Narenda Modi. Why is it that the Congress social media campaign has only been a limited success in generating an odd trend here or there but failed to generate large public support as Modi's campaign did? Without making any value judgements on the content per se, the sheer effectiveness of Modi's social media campaign to shape up agendas for mainstream media and its integration with it reflects a total failure on the lack of creativity that was exhibited by those in the Congress managing social media.

The reach of television and its impact on elections is only increasing, perhaps to a greater extent than even social media which itself, if you go by expert reports, played a decisive role in over 100 Lok Sabha seats last elections. Millions of voters have been 'blitzkrieged' by Modi's PR machinery- on television, social media and elsehwere through a well thought out, aggressive, comprehensive media plan. On the other hand, the Congress' communication strategy has been an utter failure and it should leave Rahul most disappointed as clearly his message was far more honest, balanced and progressive!

While Modi's PR team, during the Lok sabha election campaign, used mainstream and social media to build up Modi's image and ran a negative 'weak leadership' perception campaign against the Congress, the Congress media team struggled for ways to counter it! In the last one year, the Congress communication team has only been reacting to and launching attacks on Modi. What is the positive agenda they have been able to push to captivate the mind-space of the voter? Even the media campaign around historic initiatives like Food security and Land bill, both of which were Rahul's pet themes, was below par. Today, the BJP in power continues with these and many more Congress programs and takes credit for them. For example the Mars orbiter mission!

Modi's team, for instance, used news gathering agency - ANI for an interview by Mr Modi just before one of the phases of polling. An ingenious idea, that kept Modi all day long on all TV channels, that take ANI feed, during the day of polling in areas which went for voting, covertly influencing millions. The Congress response- a three minute, recorded sound bite of the Congress President, that was aired on channels, at night, as a paid-for Congress advert! Can you believe this? Sonia Gandhi speaking will always make news! The Congress communication team actually, as per reports, paid money to broadcast it and that too at a time when it had minimum impact and as you would guess, adverts have less credibility than a message given during a chat or an interview! Many such tactical errors were made and continue to be made even now.

Another massive example, of Congress' communication failure was evident in the sheer incompetence with which they handled allegations levelled against Robert Vadra! Ravi Shankar Prasad did a press conference, bang in the middle of elections on a Sunday afternoon, attacking Vadra and the Congress on issues which not one but three courts, including the Supreme Court of India had rejected in PILs before it! The Congress spokespersons however, devoid of basic research, information and for most part skills of articulation, appeared dodgy and evasive on the subject! It was only late on Sunday night, that an official press release was sent out by the Congress Media team, by which time, the papers had gone to print and the weak defence mounted by congress speakers, meant the BJP was able to make political capital out of Vadra, just like they did with Bofors and Rajiv Gandhi!

The damage of putting up uninformed and inarticulate national spokespersons, some of whom seem to lack capacity to be spokespersons even at the district level, merely because they have friends in the Congress' communication set up, has meant that for the last one year or more, night after night, the crucial battle for influencing minds of voters through television has been lost. Today, the less effective Congress spokespersons have become somewhat of a caricature. The most recent example of supreme stupidity and lack of eloquence, but unfortunately not the only one from the Congress on prime time tv debates, is that of Amercai Narayanan who represented the Congress party on a leading TV channel for a discussion on the Maharashtra and Haryana results on 19th October. In an admission that has now gone viral on Youtube,Twitter and every social media platform, the official spokesperson of the Congress party, sent with the full endorsement of the Congress media cell, gave a "hell yeah" thumbs up to the contention that the UPA government was corrupt! The video has received so many views that a new category of "Americai Narayanan comedy" has come up on Youtube ever since! A little research on the kind of talent that was being put up for defending the party on such an important day would have revealed, as per a report, that Mr. Narayanan, on Twitter, believes his "legs look like Katrina Kaifs" (Read the text here: The next day, on a debate while discussing UP governor Ram Naik's open endorsement of the BJP's political slogan, yet another treasure of the Congress media cell, Vivek Bansal, happily admitted, obviously unwittingly that it was the Congress party that indulged in politicising the post of the governor! No, it was not honesty but sheer stupidity and inability to articulate the right position and line of the party in both cases. Such a blunder alone should cost people their jobs! That this bunch of non-performers have been tasked with holding brief for Rahul Gandhi and have miserably failed at it, is only to the detriment of the congress' scion.

In other organisational aspects too, petty squabbles, internal rivalries, narrow self interests and the idea of self preservation at the behest of the party interest, ended up costing Congress and Rahul Gandhi dearly. It is certainly time that Rahul Gandhi, for his own sake, got rid of those who have let him and his ideas down, miserably!

Disclaimer: (Shehzad Poonawalla, served formerly with the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs. He is a Congress supporter. Views are personal. Can follow him on Twitter: @Shehzad_Ind)

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