NEW DELHI: 5 months spent traversing his nation on foot helped the scion of India’s most well-known dynasty shed his playboy picture — however the highway to reviving his dismal political fortunes can be a more durable journey.
Rahul Gandhi has for years struggled to problem the electoral juggernaut of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP) holds a near-monopoly on energy by means of nationalist appeals to the nation’s Hindu majority.
Modi has revelled in casting his chief opponent, dubbed an “empty swimsuit” in leaked US embassy cables from 2005, as an out-of-touch princeling extra excited by luxurious and self-indulgence than combating to helm the world’s greatest democracy.
His Congress social gathering, a once-mighty power with a proud function in ending British colonial rule 75 years in the past, is now a shadow of its former self, suffering from infighting and defections.
However a choice to invoke certainly one of India’s best-known protest traditions, flanked by bizarre individuals, has given him an air of authority that had to date eluded him in public life.
“Rightly or wrongly, the BJP’s marketing campaign of him being an incompetent individual was the dominant notion — he has managed to vary that,” impartial political analyst Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Junior informed AFP.
Since his lengthy trek started on India’s southernmost tip final September, Gandhi has struck a chord with fiery speeches and affectionate interactions with the 1000’s of bystanders which have lined streets to observe his procession.
The marketing campaign harkens again to the well-known 1930 trek by Rahul’s unrelated namesake Mahatma Gandhi, whose march to protest a salt tax imposed by British rulers was a seminal second in India’s independence wrestle.
It has bypassed the nation’s conventional media in an effort to succeed in the general public immediately, with an in-house social media equipment and interviews with on-line influencers.
Footage of Gandhi on the highway reveals him with a newly commanding posture, sporting an unkempt salt-and-pepper beard grown through the march and trailed by smiling kids.
His 3,500-kilometre (2,175-mile) journey — not all by foot — concludes on Monday within the frosty Himalayan foothills of Kashmir, after months spent finessing each his widespread contact and a voter pitch capitalising on widespread financial insecurity.
“The job of the nation is to just remember to really feel protected,” he mentioned this month, whereas sharing kebabs and playfully joking about his candy tooth in a YouTube interview with a preferred meals blogger.
The “Bharat Joro Yatra” (“Unite India March”) has customary Gandhi right into a extra credible inheritor to the legacy of his father, grandmother and great-grandfather, each a former prime minister, starting with independence chief Jawaharlal Nehru.
However Gandhi has already steered Congress to 2 landslide election defeats towards the seemingly unconquerable BJP, whose victory in subsequent 12 months’s nationwide polls is nearly universally thought of a foregone conclusion by specialists.
“He has managed to redefine his public picture,” Rao mentioned. “Whether or not it is going to translate into votes, I’m not very positive.”
Congress was dominant through the first half-century after Indian independence however now governs in simply three of India’s 28 states.
The social gathering weathered a messy and public inside brawl final 12 months over who would take workplace as its president after the resignation of Sonia Gandhi — Rahul’s mom, widowed when her husband Rajiv was assassinated in a suicide assault in 1991.
A number of leaders of different opposition events traditionally aligned with Congress spurned Rahul’s entreaties to affix his countrywide trek, an uncharitable estimation of his prospects subsequent 12 months.
His exhortations of spiritual tolerance and India’s secular traditions have prior to now did not dent the BJP’s muscular advocacy for the Hindu majority at a time of rising intolerance towards Muslims.
‘He had no selection’
However his choice to undertake the march additionally displays his greatest hurdle: the enduring energy of Prime Minister Modi, whose talent in cultivating a populist public picture effectively outclasses his personal.
“Rahul Gandhi himself has mentioned he had no selection however to go for the (march) with a view to join with individuals and report it by means of social media,” Zoya Hasan, an instructional and political scientist primarily based in New Delhi, informed AFP.
Modi is the beneficiary of a media surroundings largely in thrall to the BJP’s agenda, with Indian press freedoms declining considerably since he took workplace in 2014, based on worldwide watchdogs.
Whereas the prime minister’s every day actions are reported on frantically by cable information broadcasters, Gandhi’s exploits have largely did not function until they solid him in a unfavorable gentle.
“Something that undermines the opposition is prime information,” Hasan added. “Something that’s constructive which truly brings individuals collectively, because the Bharat Jodo Yatra is looking for to do, shouldn’t be.”