PROF PRAMOD PATHAK
As the Bharat Jodo Yatra led by Rahul Gandhi marches ahead most political pandits may like to keep their fingers crossed on its impact. Though the mainstream media, particularly the TV channels are still not giving the coverage that is due to it in the fairness of things, yet the yatra is being noticed.
Given the way social media is responding, there is a need to evaluate the travails of Rahul Gandhi more objectively. The southern states have shown more warmth to it than what the BJP would have expected. The over-aggressive posture of the BJP regarding the yatra, thus, betrays some kind of anxiety that may be brewing in the minds of the top brass of the party rather than exuding any kind of confidence as the BJP would like us to believe. Mission 2024 is what the BJP is concerned about.
However, what the party in power fails to realise is that the greatest advantage of Rahul Gandhi as of now is that he has nothing to lose. The BJP, on the other hand, is blatantly displaying its desperation to get yet another term and their top brass including the supreme commander has been unabashedly loud about their intentions.
But this has a flip side. Usually, when you overdo things it tends to backfire. More so in politics where the voters’ ego is highly unpredictable and can many times upset the apple cart. Visibility works but overexposure lead to a kind of voter fatigue that elicits reactions which cannot be effectively gauged in advance. Like what happened in many earlier Parliament elections like 1977, 1980, 1989, 2004 and 2014. The overexposure of the leadership in command did quite an extensive amount of damage to the prospects of the party in power. However, the irony is that very few realise this truth. The temptation to play God is too strong.
While it is premature to comment on the predictive validity of the social media attention as well as the popular response that the yatra is attracting, one thing is quite clear. The yatra has proved those doubting Thomases wrong who used to dismiss Rahul’s essay into politics as an easygoing avocation for time pass. Now, he is very much in the thick of it and is here to stay, much to the chagrin of his detractors both within and outside the party.
This one yatra may not win the next round of parliamentary elections for the Congress but it is certainly going to brighten the prospects of the grand old party at the hustings in 2024 in quite a measure. Rahul has now earned the leadership of the Congress which earlier many thought was thrust upon him. As a result, those photoshops or deep fake videos painting Rahul Gandhi in poor light will have minimum damage prospects, if at all. Most importantly, the yatra has boosted the confidence of the many Congress workers and sympathizers spread all over the country. Further, it will add value to Rahul’s image and enhance the acceptability of the brand Rahul in the eyes of the people.
Indian democracy has always veered around the charisma of the leaders. In fact, this is one factor that the BJP is still banking on as they think that the halo their campaign managers and the IT cell are so meticulously trying to create around Modi will see them through yet another time. The greatest strength that the BJP has is brand Modi which they believe still carries the same value that it had earlier. But leadership brands built around the charisma of a person have limitations. Charisma tends to wear and wane with time and the brand strength that is acquired due to this weakens. A sense of deja vu creeps in. Of course, charisma can be regained also. We have experienced this in the past as Indira Gandhi bounced back after Congress was decimated in 1977.
Politics is the business of selling dreams, but the difficulty is that the same seller cannot sell the same dreams for a very long time. It’s an axiomatic truth that popular expectations cannot be met. Lincoln was right when he said that you cannot fool all people all the time. For a large, complex and vibrant democracy like India popular discontent sets in and people are disenchanted in due course of time. This is a major challenge that leaders have had to face since time immemorial. The same level of charisma cannot be maintained for long and no amount of media engagement or tall promises can help retain it.
Further, the same old strategies that led to electoral success in the past do not work every time. The truth is that most promises made in politics can’t be delivered and the bitter truth is that people come to know about it. So, they need another set of promises by another set of people to keep them going. In a democracy, the possibility of a change gives hope and this hope drives the system. In 2014, it was this hope that Modi symbolised. In 2019, people thought maybe five years was not long enough and gave another term. But ten years is a rather long period that the patience of the electorate can bear.
The Mahabharat wise man Vidur had said that policies have a life. Promises, too, have a life. No matter how gullible the voters are, they do have that horse sense. The yatra, it seems will add value to the brand Rahul. The important thing is that you cannot now wish Rahul Gandhi away. 2024, however, is still going to take some time to come.