An ongoing debate in the intellectual circles or otherwise has been about whether the Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi has finally come of age or is he still growing into his political role. Afterall, he is the President of a national party. On multiple occasions, a coterie of pliable media has tried to reinvent the heir apparent, and each time they failed, only to come up with a seemingly new model of reinvention.
Recently, on the occasion of HT Leadership Summit held on October 05, 2018, Rahul Gandhi gave a speech, which fetched some usual enthusiastic reactions from certain sections of the media who gleefully declared that Rahul Gandhi is finally growing. One of the headlines in Hindustan Times read the following:
Above headline suggested that Rahul Gandhi seems to have grown into the role of the Opposition leader.
Taking a cue from the above headline, we did a research to know if Rahul Gandhi has really grown into a leader as is being claimed above or if there is any pattern behind giving an image makeover to the Congress President after every few months.
During the research, we found that the persona enhancing articles around Rahul Gandhi would emerge mostly around elections, especially starting from 2009, and would have a similar sounding narrative flowing through them. We have captured this trend in phases starting from the year 2004 till the present. The report also highlights the manner in which opinion around Rahul Gandhi was being manufactured during the election season.
The author in an article published in Times of India titled “A track that gives Rahul Gandhi his kicks”, wrote about Rahul Gandhi’s love for fast machines, his status as the most eligible bachelor of India, as well as declared him as the “the young man, who is billed to lead the country someday”. From the facets of Rahul Gandhi’s personality mentioned in the article, it is difficult to understand as to how a man who loved fast machines like his father was billed to be the future prime minister of India. Was it because “Gandhi” surname is enough to land one the top job in the country?
In 2009, a number of media commentators, for the first time, declared Gandhi scion as “coming of age”. Interestingly, three articles in three different publications hinted at the same phenomenon within a span of one month.
Interestingly, a year later, after already being given the credit of Congress party’s victory in 2009, Rahul Gandhi was again found to be coming of age in an article published in the Forbes. The article essentially said, Rahul Gandhi appears to have decided that “he wants to be the hope of his fractious country, the deliverer of modernity to India’s politics.”
The author further said, “so far Gandhi has played his cards well and has shown the characteristics of a different leader in the making”.
If the claims of Rahul Gandhi coming of age in 2009 and his emergence as a “different leader in the making” are to be taken seriously, then he should have been fully immersed in his role as a hands-on politician by 2018. However, contrary to logic, Rahul Gandhi is still growing into the role that seems to be simply thrust upon him, for no rhyme or reason.
Around Lok Sabha election 2009 - Manufacturing Opinion?
The articles on Rahul Gandhi’s coming of age, written in 2009, seem like a carefully orchestrated exercise around the election season to project an image of Rahul Gandhi, that may or may not be true.
For instance, a news report was published in the NDTV on May 05, 2009 right during the Lok Sabha Election 2009.
Aforementioned article in the BBC Hindi was also published during the Lok Sabha election of 2009.
It is not only the print media, but also the electronic media that contributed towards building Rahul Gandhi’s “coming of age” persona.
NDTV held a special show titled “The Political Evolution of Rahul Gandhi”, that too right in the middle of the assembly election in Uttar Pradesh in 2012. In the show, moderator Barkha Dutt, asked the oft-repeated question “Is this coming of age?”
Even though the future of the Congress party was uncertain, especially after a slew of scams broke out, it didn’t stop the “intellectuals” from declaring Rahul Gandhi to be coming of age, again.
Around the Lok Sabha election 2014 – Manufacturing opinion?
Interestingly, BBC which had claimed that Rahul Gandhi is coming of age and was the ‘man in command’, way back in 2009, again found Rahul Gandhi to be coming of age in 2014.
Even after two years, in 2016, the Congress President was still coming of age as a leader.
In the above article in 2016, the author says, “after being ridiculed and laughed at for almost more than a decade for practising shoot-and-scoot adventurism and rolling out one malapropism after another, the Congress vice-president is finally showing signs of some gravitas, heft and courage.”
In 2017 as well, an author Nayantara Sehgal, a writer and a person who led the ‘Award-Wapsi’ gang, alleging rising intolerance in the country, also observed that Rahul Gandhi has come of age.
In another instance, an article published in the Indian Express noted that “the year 2017 may well be called a watershed moment in Rahul Gandhi’s patchy political career.” It is interesting to recall here that year 2009 and 2012 have, too, been held as defining years in his career by the same media folks.
The oft-repeated narrative on the Congress President is not restricted to domestic media. Foreign media outlets like Media Part which was recently in news for former French president Hollands’s statement on Rafale deal (claim that we busted) had found Rahul Gandhi to be the last hope of the ‘Left Wing’ in India. They also compared him to Jeremy Corbyn (left leaning leader of the UK politics).
Around the Lok Sabha election 2019 – Manufacturing opinion?
The articles on “coming of age” of the Congress President have started flowing in again as the country approaches the general election in 2019.
One such article mentioned below highlighted the reinvention of Rahul Gandhi. It said, “Rahul Gandhi has reinvented himself to suit the narrative of the coming of age of the reluctant politician to become the revolutionary who rose up to the occasion.”
Continuing the ‘coming of his age’ trend, another article emerged after Rahul Gandhi’s speech on Lok Sabha’s no-confidence motion, which said, “He seemed to be enjoying politics, at last, and did not stumble as he has in past public addresses. No doubt his coming of age will be the talk of the town for days.”
The above discussion follows a general trend of reinventing Rahul Gandhi every few years, right around the election time, to feed a new image of the heir apparent in people’s mind, when the previous image has failed.
The same “coming of age” narrative, however, also show the paucity of ideas among the Congress supporters who are unable to find new ways to showcase their leader to make him seem more palatable. However, how much of it is successful in helping reposition Rahul Gandhi’s image among the masses can be seen from the electoral victories of the Congress, which are not too many, especially since 2014.