The Personalities of Contrast
Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi
There are several substantive reasons why governments are voted in, and voted out. But a primary factor remains personality, where the persona of the top candidate retains importance in the Indian street when the vote is cast. Hence Prime Minister Narendra Modi acquired his own chutzpah when he sought to replace Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by the sheer contrast in personality.
Singh did not speak much, was barely an orator to entice the masses, more of a mumbler, and while some pro-US economists hailed him as a genius the public saw in him a frail proxy for Sonia Gandhi and the Congress party. Narendra Modi was a study in contrast. He enthralled the Indian voter, strong, dynamic, a convincing orator. Agenda apart he was able to convince through sheer force of personality that he had the magic wand to change India overnight — and till today he has a strong voter base who support not just the BJP/RSS agenda but the persona of PM Modi as the man who can and will deliver.
The ‘strongman’ image was cultivated to a point where actual deliverance of promises ceased to matter. But in the 8 plus years some disillusionment has seeped in, the love affair between Modi and the people has dimmed, and economic issues of livelihood have started to dominate the discourse.
It is in the midst of this that the Congress has started its Kanyakumari to Kashmir bharat jodo yatra. It began with an agenda of love (against hate and divisiveness) and economic equality for all (jobs, price rise) over the persona of Rahul Gandhi, but 3000 km later the picture has reversed. But the agenda alone would have had limited impact had it not been for the slowly- revealing personality of Rahul Gandhi that has clearly struck a chord with the people, and has directly helped in increasing the crowds as the yatra passes through the states from the south into the north.
The contrast in agenda between the Congress now and the BJP is further strengthened by the contrast in the personalities of the PM and Rahul Gandhi. These differences could not have been more striking.
1.Youth: The Prime Minister was almost young and dynamic in contrast to Manmohan Singh. He appears old in comparison to the very youthful, physically fit Congress leader whose T-shirt as the garb for all climes has become an issue of ridicule but now of increasing admiration where the young are concerned. Walking 3000 km and going strong, kicking a ball as he walks, breaking into a run for the fun of it, carrying kids on his back, giving an arm in support to the elderly as they try to match his step – are all images that the masses are lapping up. Along with his smile when he is asked about his all weather T-shirt and a “why are you so bothered about my T-shirt”. The long grueling march in all kinds of weather is a signature of physical health that has not gone unnoticed across India.
2. Simplicity: The same white Tshirt and pants were Rahul Gandhi’s yatra garb. There was a little bit of flutter about the initial pair of walking shoes he chose to wear, but after that all attention has been taken off his clothes through his decision to wear the same outfit day after day. So unlike the head gear, and the expensive clothes, and sunglasses donned by the Prime Minister when he first came to power, Rahul Gandhi in his first major public appearance that has kept him on the streets in full public view for months, has established himself as a man of simple tastes. So far. But as a cynical journalist pointed out, “he is not the Prime Minister yet.”
3. Mass contact: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have distanced himself from the people over the years. He addresses rallies, drives through crowded streets in road shows, speaks at seminars and conferences from a script but does not meet the people. At least not in the manner that Rahul Gandhi has been doing, where security seems to have become secondary to mass contact. The padyatra accommodates persons who have asked for a brief walk with him, but en route he spots and invites the young and the old for a conversation, or a hug and embrace. The spontaneity is engaging, and again in marked contrast to the Prime Minister's more scripted shows.
4. Media interaction: Here the difference could not be more pronounced. Narendra Modi as Chief Minister did meet the media in Gujarat and gave interviews even to the BBC just after the 2002 violence. Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister has no time for the media, has not addressed a single press conference, and his few and far between interviews have been with persons who have never really hidden their personal support for him. Hence there is a comfort zone that has not been penetrated during these years insofar as the PM is concerned. On the other hand, Rahul Gandhi holds press conferences at the drop of a hat, has been interacting with the media in every state the BJY has passed, and even as he does not hesitate to tell reporters about their prejudice and partisanship he also does not hesitate to answer their questions.He spars with reporters, laughs, criticises with a smile and answers all questions that come his way. Reporters are returning from these interactions disarmed.
5. Direct straightforward approach: There is no doubt that the PM is a powerful orator, and sways the crowds that gather to listen to him. He speaks down to the masses, and has the ability to rouse them. Rahul Gandhi on the other hand is not a good orator but makes up the deficiency with a conversational style that he has been developing through the yatra. It is not a talking down but a talking with approach that seems to be working fairly well for him. At least it is being appreciated by the crowds that gather for his public rallies en route, and while he is not able to rouse the people in the manner the PM does he has developed his own, rather different style. On show is his sincerity, and straightforwardness that is the USP of the Bharat Jodo Yatra. As it matches with the doctrine of love and harmony that the yatra has been promoting.
The Pappu label has disappeared, and the media, even if not allowed to report his yatra, have become more kindly disposed towards the Congress party leader. PM Modi is still the star but the younger one is creating his own, distinct shine.