Opinion » Comment

Updated: November 11, 2013 01:43 IST

For Congress, a task of controlling the message

Smita Gupta
Comment (33)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
X-FACTOR: Rahul Gandhi’s approach is straight-from-the-heart and
unrehearsed, but it does not seem to have struck a chord with the
urban middle class in the way Mr. Modi’s style of oration has.
X-FACTOR: Rahul Gandhi’s approach is straight-from-the-heart and unrehearsed, but it does not seem to have struck a chord with the urban middle class in the way Mr. Modi’s style of oration has.

Narendra Modi’s coded speeches, barbs and propaganda machine have seen the Congress scrambling to get its communicators to return fire.

For the Congress, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s emergence on the national stage, first as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s official campaign manager for 2014, and then as its prime ministerial candidate, is proving to be a daily challenge. His coded speeches, well-chosen barbs and slick propaganda machine have seen the ruling party scrambling for its best and brightest communicators to return fire.

But the going has been tough. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government’s efforts to publicise the positive impact of its policies of social and economic inclusion have been negated in its second tenure by financial scandals, rising prices and the public perception of a weak, indecisive administration. The fact that corporate India and a significant section of the media are backing the Modi campaign has not helped it either.

Lacking the punch

Crucially, even though the Congress doesn’t lack effective speakers to challenge Mr. Modi, both on 2002 as well as on the many shortcomings in his governance, none of those fielded — Union Ministers P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma, Jairam Ramesh, Manish Tewari or party functionaries Ajay Maken and Digvijaya Singh — is the Congress’s prime ministerial candidate.

The party’s chosen leader is Rahul Gandhi and, at a time of deep economic crisis, his open, unrehearsed, straight-from-the-heart style has not resonated with the urban middle class in the way Mr. Modi’s mixture of provocative aggression and sly innuendo has. The Gujarat Chief Minister’s carefully choreographed appearances are all calculated to suggest he is the knight on a white charger — that, Mr. Gandhi candidly admitted at a Confederation of Indian Industry meeting, he was not. If Mr. Modi is promising instant nirvana, Mr. Gandhi, far more realistically, is working on a long-term plan.

Mr. Modi’s supporters have applauded him for talking of the Hindu and Muslim poor in one breath, but his core Hindutva voters have noted that he now refers to Mr. Gandhi as shehzada, the Urdu substitute for yuvraj, to reinforce the Congress’s pro-Muslim inclinations. Just as they did not miss Mr. Modi’s references last year to the possibility of “Ahmed bhai” — not Ahmed Patel — being the Congress’s choice as Chief Minister of Gujarat. Mr. Modi’s meetings with Hindu victims of the recent explosions in Patna was his way of telling his core constituency that he hasn’t forgotten his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh roots, while keeping the spotlight on terror.

The Congress has always found it hard to respond to Mr. Modi’s coded appeals to the majority community: if Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s description of the Gujarat Chief Minister in 2007 as maut ka saudagar (merchant of death) backfired, so did Mr. Gandhi’s recent effort to empathise with Muslims who had been at the receiving end of communal violence in Muzaffarnagar.

The BJP would like the general elections to be a presidential-style contest between Mr. Modi and Mr. Gandhi, as there are many parts of the country where it does not exist — vast swathes of the south and most of the north-east, for instance. The Congress, with a larger geographical spread, wants the conversation to be about its policies and programmes.

Congress spokespersons have, therefore, consistently attacked Mr. Modi for trying to convert a parliamentary battle into a presidential election: it isn’t about personalities, they say, it is about issues. If Mr. Sibal recently asked Mr. Modi to spell out his policies on education, the economy, and foreign policy, Mr. Chidambaram and Mr. Sharma have repeatedly questioned the economic data that he puts out.

Uphill task

But it is an uphill task, with television channels framing the battle for 2014 as one between Mr. Modi and Mr Gandhi.

When Mr. Modi was named the BJP’s campaign manager in June, the Congress saw it as an opportunity to defend the party’s vision of India. As considered policy, Mr. Digvijaya Singh, Mr. Maken and Mr. Tewari led the charge soon after Mr. Modi spoke with pride about being a Hindu nationalist, in an interview with Reuters. “Mr. Modi cannot go unanswered,” Mr. Tewari said, “there are two competing visions of India: the broad pluralistic idea of India that has flourished on which the BJP is trying to impose its sectarian, majoritarian notion.”

But this soon spun out of control: July saw virtually every Congressman of any standing shooting off comments about Mr. Modi. Some senior leaders began to express their doubts whether this wall-to-wall coverage of the Gujarat Chief Minister was serving its purpose. “We need to take Mr. Modi on,” a senior party functionary told The Hindu, “but we can’t afford to have him occupying the entire political space.”

But doing that is easier said than done.

At a press conference called by Mr. Maken to challenge Mr. Modi on his track record on sports, education and social welfare schemes, a question posed by a journalist on the latter’s use of the phrase “burqa of secularism” elicited the comment that the “burqa of secularism” is better than “naked communalism”: unfortunately, for the Congress, this comment, rather than puncturing Mr. Modi’s governance record, made headlines almost everywhere.

Similarly, Congress spokespersons, deputed to travel to State capitals to speak about food security, found themselves distracted by questions on ‘what else but Mr. Modi?’

For the Congress, therefore, calibrating the message is a daily challenge. A five-day workshop held in September for party spokespersons on how to control the message in the age of social media became a session on how to counter Mr. Modi and his effective use of Facebook, Twitter and Niti Central, a right-wing digital media platform.

In Gujarat, Mr. Modi successfully controlled the message among people he knew intimately in three successive State elections with telling results, even as the Congress struggled to keep the spotlight off him. Will the Congress have better luck on the national stage? That is the challenge for the ruling party’s spin doctors.

Keywords: ModiCongressBJPUPARahul Gandhi


Gujarat Chief Minister in fresh history battleNovember 11, 2013

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The Congress think tank fielded against Modi wants him to talk on
Economy, Foreign Policy and Education. Modi has challenged all of
them including Rahul and Sonia on why they never talk about the
scams and corruption under Congress and the UPA. After all, the
Economy would have been much better off without all the scams which
drained the Government coffers of lakhs of crores of public money.
As for Foreign Policy, the state of our relations with Pakistan and
China is not exactly flattering to the government. The way the PM
kept dragging his feet on the issue of going to Sri Lanka and
finally called it off only to be confronted with another problem in
his delegation going, did not help either him personally or his
party. So why should Modi talk about Foreign Policy? The Congress
simply has lost the plot.

from:  N.S.Rajan
Posted on: Nov 13, 2013 at 16:18 IST

I love reading D. Mahapatra comments. He is a wonderful wrtiter. I look forward to reading his comment. Thank you, Mr. Mahapatra.

from:  Virendra Gupta
Posted on: Nov 12, 2013 at 10:44 IST

Rahul’s is a case of much noise and less substance is evident from his
poor lackluster record as a parliamentarian. In his stint as a Lok
Sabha M.P, Rahul rarely spoke in Parliament. When he did, he made no
impression. His comments outside on a variety of subjects show his
shallow understanding of complex problems and his inability to
distinguish between his party’s political interests and the supreme
national interest.
Without dismantling the sycophants around him, it will be difficult
for Rahul Gandhi to strike a chord with the Aam Adhmi. Unlike Rahul
Gandhi, Modi does enough home work before his each appearances and
that makes it different. Aam Adhmi is fed up with his usual rhetoric
that centre sends funds, but the State Governments had failed to
utilize it properly. Emotionally packed speech may help to make
jubilant the sycophants or create sympathy among the party workers.
But it matters less and less to voters. At best, it can be termed as
an attempt in his new avatar to emotionally blackmail the voters after
his miserably failed earlier two avatars - from angry young man
frequently rolling up his Kurta sleeves and tearing of a replica of
the opponents manifesto seen in UP assembly election to the new guru
of ‘politics of love’ and subtle crusader in Gujarat. .
The common impression among Congress insiders is that Rahul is far
below even his father in political ability. Today, Rahul Gandhi only
appeals to the traditional Congress voters who anyway vote for the
Congress party. His 19% rating is largely because of these voters
rooting for him. To be able to win national elections, a leader must
appeal to a larger constituency comprising the young, educated, urban,
aspirational electorate vast sections of which are not committed
voters of any party. The fading away of Rahul aura is not just
conjectural; it is visible in the public sphere. At best it can be
termed that Rahul Gandhi is one of the most assiduously built
political brands anywhere in the world. The “brand promotion” package
included night stays in Dalit homes, visits to interior hamlets,
interactions with youth in college campuses across the country,
watching sports from commoner stalls etc. etc. Any marketing
professional would tell you that publicity can only help in building a
brand to some extent. Ultimately, it is the intrinsic worth of a
product that assures its lasting success. Rahul Gandhi seems to be
woefully lacking in this respect. With the gloss wearing out, Rahul
Gandhi’s political flight seems to be sputtering on the tarmac before
a takeoff

from:  ettirankandath krishnadas
Posted on: Nov 12, 2013 at 06:12 IST

A different take, Congress has no answer to Modi, think it in this line, even the main stream media has no answer, so these kind of articles. A glance of comments shows what your readers feel about it. The usual line is modi friends troll, but if you think in that way so be it. A fair assessement is what expected, not biased views from the paper, people buy paper to know the news and views and not the biases of the writer.

from:  D Aravindh Shukla
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 20:11 IST

Is Rahul Gandhi, with no experience of governance and no great academic attainment in any
area of knowledge, a right choice to become the Prime Minister of a country, riddled with
problems- social, economic , political or whatever? Nehru's great grandson he definitely is,
but will this accident of birth alone help him steer the country through a rough domestic and
international environment?

from:  K.Vijayakumar
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 18:14 IST

Congress should not focus on Narendra Modi and cry wolf. Congress
should gracefully accept defeat and give Modi a chance to serve the
country. Meanwhile, Congress should use the next five years to
strengthen itself.

If the worst fears like Fascism, Holocaust, Genocide, Pogrom, Nazism,
Authoritarianism, Gobbelsian propaganda etc etc come true, the people
of India will vote Congress back the next time with a thumping

We should not underestimate the Judiciary, Election Commission, Army,
Press, Minorities Commission, Scheduled Castes Commission, Scheduled
Tribes Commission, Backward Classes Commission, Human Rights
Commission etc.

The resilience of the people of India and maturity of political
parties have been demonstrated once during the black days of 1974-77
when dark forces engulfed the country.

Everybody should relax and treat the coming election as a normal dance
of democracy.

from:  Shekhar
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 16:35 IST

In other words the party has not done anything really big to show to the people and hence they are not in a position to counter Mr. Modi.
Even after so many years of rule they are still talking about food security.

Hence if there is not action, it cannot be spelt out or highlight in their speeches - they can only defend the party and its top brass - i.e. Nehru/Gandhi family.

from:  G Balu
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 15:52 IST

@Author: please explain the basis for these lines:

1. significant section of the media are backing the Modi campaign.
Truth is otherwise. After reading this piece, I come to see The Hindu
as Rahul supporter

2. open, unrehearsed, straight-from-the-heart style. He is anything
but these.
3. Mr. Modi’s mixture of provocative aggression and sly innuendo.
4. Mr. Gandhi, far more realistically, is working on a long-term plan.
Where is this plan? I have not seen any.
5. His core Hindutva voters have noted that he now refers to Mr.
Gandhi as shehzada, the Urdu substitute for yuvraj, to reinforce the
Congress’s pro-Muslim inclinations. seriously!! come on..
6. “Ahmed bhai” — not Ahmed Patel. you must be joking.
7. Mr. Modi’s meetings with Hindu victims of the recent explosions in
Patna was his way of telling his core constituency that he hasn’t
forgotten his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh roots.
8. Mr. Gandhi’s recent effort to empathise with Muslims. ???

from:  virender
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 15:06 IST

What kind of opinion writing is this? "Hindu victims"? Were there any muslim victims at all? So if some hindu happens to be victim of terrorism then they should not be visited? Why? Is this some kind of sharia-bolshevik nation? have you ever raised any opinion on hindu/sikh conditions in bangladesh and pakistan? Where they have been reduced from 20 to 1 percent of population. Really biased to the hilt!

from:  Harsh vs
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 14:48 IST

Even I have written my displeasure previous through these forum to THE Hindu that it takes biased view of Modi almost for couple of years and this article is another example and i would like to clarify only one thing to the author of this article that People likes MODI more than his speech and for the other number of leaders which you have listed under Congress are not people friendly. This is the big difference. Finally, i would request THE HINDU to keep up its reputation by providing unbiased article to the readers.

from:  Jay
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 14:48 IST

why is the reporter so infatuated with Rahul Gandhi. He has no governing
credentials, unless you are placing the Gandhi name on some kind of pedestal. Do
you believe somehow that all of the talent in the country is with the Gandhi family? I
can talk open heart , but that should not in any way construed as having governing

from:  paarth
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 14:45 IST

Yes, it is right that Modi is gaining upper hand because of his
oratory and provocative aggressive style. Congress is still not
understanding this fact. If the congress is to come up with upper hand
it should atleast now change it's style of propaganda. It should
select few of it's senior politicians who are good orators to start
taking aggressive style, give them free hand in creating right or
wrong accusations on Modi like Modi himself does without waiting to
verify the correctness of those accusations , while talking on claims
of good work done.Persons like Digvijay singh,Jairam Ramesh ,
Rajbabbar and others like them are taking right line to counter Modi
but it appears they are kept under controls which should be removed
by high command.This is high time that this is done and many such
others in the party are also brought in the front, given free hand to
even cook and befitting allegations against Namo and his party without
second thought.Namo style will keep you in race with Namo

from:  cpgandhi
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 14:35 IST

Why the author wrote 'Hindu victims of Patna blasts'. This is the way
author clearly displayes his own biases and prejudices.

from:  Vivek Kumar
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 14:33 IST

If Modi visits the victims of terrorism in his Patna meeting it is
branded as "meetings with Hindu victims of the recent explosions" to
exhibit his RSS roots, whereas Rahul Gandhi's visit to the victims of
violence in Muzaffarnagar is termed as his efforts to "empathise with
Muslims who had been at the receiving end of communal violence". The
Hindu certainly can not stoop down to to greater secular depths.

from:  kvjayan
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 14:29 IST

Congress will be wiped out in 2014. The nation will once again progress
for good and for ever.

from:  Rajesh
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 14:14 IST

This whole article is sadly dripping with bias against Modi. If Modi goes and meets the family of his supporters who were mindlessly killed by terrorists, then all Smita can thnink of is that they were Hindus? And if RG does not get any traction from voters, it is not due to his style, but the horrible track record of his government over the last five years, but surprisingly (or ,rather unsurprisingly), barely gets a mention.

from:  sai
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 13:10 IST

To say that a "significant" section of the media is backing the Modi
campaign is a good joke. The fact is otherwise. Almost the entire elite
media has been virulently anti-Modi ever since he became CM of
Gujarat more than a decade ago and the media relished the name calling
by Congress party with such epithets as Hitler, fascist, mass murderer

from:  kvjayan
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 12:33 IST

The " Mr. Modi’s meetings with Hindu victims of the recent explosions in Patna " shows that the bias lies everywhere. The term " Hindu " had to be inserted with "victims" ..?

No wonder Modi is having a field day blasting such "secular" propaganda.Its time for media to grow up or, atleast pretend to be so.

from:  Saurav
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 11:41 IST

Smitha Guptha’s article reminds me of the campaign for general
elections held in the wake of lifting of emergency during March,
1977.Then to counter Janatha Party leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee,
George Fernandez, Madhu Dhandavathe, Jagjivan Ram and the venerable
Jayaprakash Narayan who were capable of keeping audiences spell bound
for hours together Congress had only Indira Gandhi who believed more
in pragmatic policies than rhetoric and an inexperienced Sanjay
Gandhi. Though eventually the Janatha party managed to win they could
not remain in power for more than two years which goes to prove that
consolidating and retaining power is an all together different ball
game. Even if Mr. Modi manages to become India’s Prime Minister the
question still remains whether he would last even those two years
given his mindset, attitude and style of functioning.

from:  Baikadi Suryanarayana Rao
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 11:17 IST

Why this reference to NaMo's visit to blast victims is in such a
derogatory way. That too in the publication named HINDU.

from:  Nitin Nimkar
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 11:02 IST

As elections come closer, the Hindu is coming out all guns against Mr
Modi, which is understandable for a liberal newspaper. What is not
understandable is the new-found love for Mr Rahul Gandhi. What does
the reporter imply from "open, unrehearsed, straight-from-the-heart
style"? What is so great about it? While one must question Mr Modi
about is social and economic vision, what is this "long term plan"
that Mr Gandhi is working on?
It is quite clear for the article that the reporter is clearly
biased. It is unfortunate that the Hindu is not following its own
high standards and coming out as a PR agent for Mr Gandhi

from:  Pravin
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 10:59 IST

To be the most successful politician one has to be the most effective orator. In the BJP, A.
B.Vajpayee,L.K. Advani and Modi meet this requirement. After Indira Gandhi, we do do not
see any powerful orator in the Congress party. In the non BJP and non Congress line up of
parties, we have seen C.N.Annadurai, Nedunchezhian, Karunanidhi in the DMK and
Jayalalithaa in the AIADMK and Ms. Mamata Bannerjee of Trinamul Congress ,to name a
few. At the all India level, in today's context Mr. Modi enjoys that unique status, whereas in
the Congress, we have to search for persons who are consistent in their eloquence, so as to
keep alive the interest of their audience throughout their speech, to achieve their objective.
Going by this yardstick, Mr. Modi has already become unstoppable in his track.

from:  Shekar
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 10:32 IST

I do not understand this innuendo about Modi visiting 'Hindu' victims of
Patna explosions. Mr. Modi was visiting victims of senseless violence,
those who had gone to see and hear him. Pray, are there any Muslim
victims of this terrorist attack that Mr. Modi has avoided ?
Why bring religion here ?

from:  Mandar
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 09:47 IST

We had expected after the recent changes in THE Hindu fact driven and
objective analysis from invited articles, I hope the newspaper is

@ author Can you please justify on what basis can you substantiate
these lines ?

Rahul Gandhi and, at a time of deep economic crisis, his open,
unrehearsed, straight-from-the-heart style

Where was this straight from heart style when 2G scam, CWG scam, Coal
Gate, or debates in parliament. Please display objective analysis
before you use this paper as a forum to hero worship Rahul Gandhi.

from:  Ananth
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 09:16 IST

It is hard to know what to make of accusations of Hinduvata tendencies of Modi. It is equally
hard to know what qualifications Rahul Gandhi brings to the job, he seems to have been
anointed by Congress for reasons best known to the party. India badly needs a person who
can provide competent, determined, thoughtful, energetic and honest leadership to take our
secular and pluralistic country out of its current morass and drift.

from:  Hoshiar Singh
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 09:00 IST

Smita Gupta's analysis lacks one ingredient i.e. why should TV news channels churn out
Modi's images and speeches every day and night? Who pays for the telecast of the
speeches of Modi? What is the role of corporates who control the media? One needs to
be suspicious of this trend. This trend does not augur well for balanced journalism and
the anchors too have gone one-sided in their questions to Congress politicians. Are we
seeing embedded journalism? Or the TV channels will soon realize the folly that they
are engaging in?

from:  LRaj
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 08:40 IST

"The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry; And leave us
nothing but grief and pain / For promised joy!": Robert Burns, 1785.
"... but at the length truth will out": Shakespeare, Merchant of
Venice, Act II, sc 2. A mouse is a mouse, for all that!

Indian history needs to start a new chapter – the people must, and are
ready to advance on all fronts starting with re-establishment of
democracy, an honest govt, good governance, and an end to national

from:  D Mahapatra
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 07:46 IST

What is interesting is that even in small towns and villages that
benefited from Congress govt handouts there are greater support for
Modi, the reason being younger people find no job prospects under the
UPA govt, they are instead fascinated by Modi track record of job
creation and flocking of business (hence jobs and tax revenue) in
Gujarat. In places like Rajasthan rural areas even Muslim youth are
willing to take a chance with Modi and his track record given the
abysmal economic performance under UPA govt. Perhaps Rahul Gandhi
should tell the youth how he plans to review the economy and create
jobs and prosperity for the youth. The long term reality is that India
will be more urbanized and younger, and the young people in cities
care about jobs and trappings of prosperity rather
than govt hand outs which the Congress govt is adept at. In other
words Rahul Gandhi should think of showing people how to fish rather
than handing them the fish for a day or two.

from:  Suvojit Dutta
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 07:01 IST

Excellent article. Clearly shows how confused and scrambled Congress
really is. All its ministers are concerned about the Family rather than
the Nation!

from:  Gaurav
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 06:01 IST

Mr.Modi is not Teflon coated. The congress message is drowned by the corruption scandals. The author says Mr. Modi’s meetings with Hindu victims of the recent explosions in Patna was his way of telling his core constituency that he hasn’t forgotten his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh roots, while keeping the spotlight on terror. What does the author suggests? Modi should not meet the victims of terror because they happen to be Hindu? Spin doctors will only reinforce the support for Modi. Modi can trash any congress leader and it will stick. Why? The answer to this question will explain the uphill task for congress.

from:  KVRao
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 03:29 IST

Author mentioned Rahul Gandhi's 'open, unrehearsed, straight-from-the-
heart style', but the way he barged on his party's news conference to
defend allowing convicted politicians running for offices amendment
and thoroughly rubbish the same amendment it gave the impression that
he either tried to pull a fast one on the people by pretending that he
is outsider to the govt power politics or he is totally clueless and
has no say in govt or party affairs (his party has been vigorously
defending the very proposal). Either case Rahul Gandhi comes across as
amateur and not ready for the top job in the country. He has
consistently refused to assume any ministerial responsibility over the
years in spite of many requests by his party and his track record of
leading election campaigns is dismal so far. It is no wonder that
middle class or for that matter many thoughtful people are
disillusioned with the promises and future of Rahul Gandhi as a
national leader.

from:  Suvojit Dutta
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 03:21 IST

Your newspaper has always been Anti BJP, and more Anti Modi. That
said, why is THE HINDU trying to change the public opinion, and
disregard the people's opposition? Does THE HINDU really believe that
it can stop the winds of change, and ignore the people's ire to the
misrule that we have seen?

How does THE HINDU defend the record of the UPA rule - lawlessness,
corruption, billion dollar scams, runaway inflation? How about a
balanced approach, where you focus 10 % of your attention on also
these topics?

from:  Thomas Johnston
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 03:11 IST

Smita Gupta, I am shocked by the blatant biased article of yours ignoring the truth altogether.

You say Modi went to see hindu victims of Patna riots. The victimes were all hindus so if he
happens to see them as vitctims, you happen to view them as "hindu victims" and this is
sheer nonsense and bigoted at best. Next you say Modi uses words like Shezada. You
forgot the far bigger slur on hindus by Rahul Gandhi and your own media. Saffron extremists,
Sangh Parivar etc are whose words? Who went and complained to the US envoy about the
so called "hindu extremism". I have yet to see a most biased and bigoted person like you.

from:  Ramamurthy
Posted on: Nov 11, 2013 at 02:14 IST
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