Setting the Political Narrative 101: Congress and Rahul Can Take Lessons from Biden and Tejashwi
File photo of RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
In 2008, Barack Obama campaigned and won the United States presidential elections with the slogan, "Yes, we can".
Far away in Delhi, in 2020, as the US voted in Joe Biden, the Congress party said, "Maybe, we can, too".
Till a few weeks ago, many political observers felt that with the world turning right and Donald Trump’s "America for Americans" campaign , he had struck the right chord and a second term was very much possible. Comparisons were immediately drawn with Narendra Modi who till today remains very popular and his "Atmanirbhar" campaign rings similar to "America for Americans". More than that, the opposition isn’t seen as any match to him, certainly not the Congress. A confused cadre, no clarity over leadership and dwindling support in states, rising regional powers and an aggressive BJP pushing into unknown territory adds to the Congress’s woes and apprehensions.
But all this changed a bit when it became clear that Biden was the new President-elect. The man who many dismissed as an underdog initially with a politically weak Kamala Harris as running mate has been a turnaround. The Congress top leadership, especially both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, promptly tweeted, welcoming Biden as the "hope for a new America". Sources say that as Rahul Gandhi keenly watched the results pouring in, he told his close advisors that America had shown the way. That there was hope and that, yes, Congress too can.
But what is it that the Congress can learn from America and Biden-Harris? Political strategist Dilip Cherian says, “There are two big lessons which political parties need to learn to make a comeback. Running partners matter a lot. Harris gave Biden the heft he needed. She ticked many boxes. Does your partner get equal play and do they press the right buttons?
Secondly, a positive detailed response must be (readied in advance) unveiled, but only once the campaign starts. It helps if the incumbent refuses to accept any advice.”
Political experts say that what helped Biden win was his focus on people's issues and not getting dragged into any matter which could be misconstrued as being against primarily American interests. So while Trump openly showed his contempt for wearing masks, it was his mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis among other issues which seems to have done him in. Biden was quick to realise this. As numbers soared in the US, and President Trump made light of it, Biden’s team found an issue to show to voters that he cared while Trump didn’t. This is one thing that the Congress back here wants to latch on to. The growing pandemic, early warning by Rahul Gandhi falling on deaf ears, insufficient medical facilities— Team Rahul thinks trumpeting this repeatedly could help secure a victory though polls are far away.
Biden also harped on jobs and a united America. He was smart enough not to abandon the "America for Americans" line by Donald Trump, realising that this is what nationalism and national spirit is all about. Yet, without sounding appeasing, he did talk of united America to take everyone along. Now Congress needs to get this perception right. The questioning of surgical strikes, open criticism of revocation of Article 370, etc, just leads to the trap laid by the BJP. To Tejashwi Yadav goes the credit for realising that this a trap he should avoid. So his campaigns were about jobs, refusing to get drawn or even responding to issues like Kashmir, Ram Mandir and CAA. In fact, right before the PM's tour, he tweeted saying he hoped the PM would address the issues of Bihar. "Vocal for local" was clearly Tejashwi’s battle cry.
Biden in his debates too focused on the need for America to remain a superpower, to be one and fight corona, and provide jobs. Rahul Gandhi’s advisors are also asking him to not get drawn into issues or baits of the BJP which puts the Congress always on a backfoot. Balancing the Hindu-Muslim votes without tilting to either side, less leaning towards the Left ideology (which his close group is accused of), focus on people's issues like jobs, health facilities, etc, are the lessons he can take from the success story of Biden.
But Congress is gung-ho as it has got some hope. Sources say that a group will be set up soon to re-examine its worksheet and strategy just ahead of its presidential elections, But there’s a lot to learn from Biden too. And Tejashwi.