Friday, 2 December, 2022
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How Rahul Gandhi could have defeated Narendra Modi

Modi is not invincible. A smarter Rahul Gandhi could have defeated him.

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There are no certainties in politics. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah were defeated in Delhi and Bihar in 2015. They couldn’t capture power in Karnataka despite being the single largest party in 2018. They embarrassingly lost many by-polls they should have won easily. Just a few months before the Lok Sabha elections, they lost some key stronghold states in the Hindi heartland.

They could have lost the 2019 Lok Sabha election too, if only they had a smarter opponent. It is clear that the mantle was on Rahul Gandhi, as Modi made the election mercilessly presidential. If people wanted Rahul Gandhi as prime minister, it would have lifted the fortunes of regional parties too, with the prospect of a UPA-3.


Also read: 12 reasons why Modi-Shah’s BJP got the better of Congress & everyone else


Here are four key mistakes Rahul Gandhi made.

1. Positive campaigning 

The big picture of Rahul Gandhi’s campaign was negative—the slogan we heard the most was “Chowkidar chor hai”. Compare this to Modi’s campaign as opposition leader in 2013-14. It was about promising “Achhe din”, about making things happen, solving problems, showing people big dreams.

Voters want to know from opposition leaders what they would do in power, how they would do it, and how they would be better at solving the people’s problems.

There were enough problems: the failure of demonetisation, the slowdown in economic growth after GST, the suffering of farmers due to low returns and rising unemployment. But Rahul Gandhi failed to make himself the answer to these problems. At best, he highlighted the problems, and even that was done so poorly that it didn’t make people turn.

If Rahul Gandhi had spent five years coming across as a problem solver rather than just a critic of Modi’s policies, people wouldn’t have been asking who’s the alternative.


Also read: 2019 will be known as the “Aayega To Modi Hi” election


2. Building trust 

Travelling in this election I asked people why they weren’t voting for the Congress despite the promise of Rs 72,000 a year per family. The answer invariably was lack of trust. They didn’t believe it was possible. Congress workers told me that wherever they went telling people about the NYAY scheme, they were asked where the money would come from, and they themselves didn’t know the answer.

If implemented, the NYAY proposal would completely end poverty in India. The Congress estimated the scheme would affect 25 crore people. Whether or not the proposal was sound economics, it should have been made the poor flock to the Congress over-night.

The proposal was announced too late in the day—just a few days before the first phase of polling. Considering the Congress is weak in resources, and is generally poor at communicating with the masses, it should have announced the scheme much earlier. It is true that hardly anyone heard of the slogan “Ab ho ga Nyay” but many had heard of Rs 72,000. They just didn’t trust Rahul Gandhi to deliver it.

Modi made so many tall promises in 2014 that the Congress had labelled him ‘feku’. Yet, people voted for Modi’s tall promises in 2014 because he sold them trust: I’ve done it in Gujarat, he said, calling it a model he would replicate for the entire country.

People voted for Modi despite rising unemployment because they thought, on balance, that Modi was more likely to be able to create jobs than Rahul Gandhi. BJP-voting unemployed youth in Bihar told a reporter as much.

Rahul Gandhi could have built public trust in his leadership by contributing (or publicly appearing to contribute) fresh ideas in Congress-ruled states like Punjab. He could have sold trust by explaining *how* he plans to solve problems. This could have made Modi look a less credible leader by contrast, as he struggled to show the results of his 2014 promises.


Also read: Rahul Gandhi’s NYAY raises too many questions & is not the answer to ending poverty


3. Responding to public mood 

In a democracy, the role of the opposition is to become the voice of the people. Politicians design their election campaigns after gauging public mood.

The Lokpal movement was wildly successful in 2011 because public mood was against corruption. It forced the UPA-2 to enact a Lokpal bill. For five years PM Narendra Modi made excuses to not appoint a Lokpal and nobody cared because people didn’t see corruption as the top issue anymore. People tend to worry more about corruption when inflation shoots up.

Arvind Kejriwal did not go from being an NGO activist to Delhi chief minister because of the Lokpal movement. To defeat both the BJP and the Congress in Delhi and emerge victorious, AAP leaders told me, the party carried out a survey to understand the biggest issue for the people of Delhi. It was rising and inflated electricity bills. He made electricity his central campaign and won handsomely. Similarly, the Modi campaign in 2014 focused separately with separate slogans for all the top issues people worried about, such as inflation, black money and women’s safety.

In 2019 these issues were missing, as the top concern was jobs. Yashwant Deshmukh of C-Voter tells me that in his tracker surveys, employment had started showing up as a rising concern in mid-2015, even before demonetisation. Instead of making jobs his central campaign, Rahul Gandhi went after corruption. By doing so, he was attacking Modi on his strong point (corruption-free image), letting him off on his weak point (unemployment).

It would have been easy for Rahul Gandhi to tell people that demonetisation and GST were behind job losses – as the CPI(M) did in Coimbatore and defeated the BJP there. Instead, Rahul Gandhi made Rafale the central pitch.


Also read: Why it makes sense for Rahul Gandhi & Congress to persist with Rafale as 2019 campaign issue


4. Permanent campaigning

When Rahul Gandhi hugged Narendra Modi in Parliament last year, he won the day. Rahul has been building the abstract binary of love and hate for some time. With a visual to portray this binary, Rahul had finally managed to convey the point. It was during a no-confidence motion that the opposition was losing. With one gimmick, Rahul Gandhi turned a loss into a victory. He should have launched a whole Gandhigiri campaign, asking Congress leaders to give hugs or send flowers to BJP-RSS leaders across the country, especially when they made sectarian or controversial remarks.

Rahul Gandhi’s supporters rightly complain that the media has mostly become a Modi propaganda arm. But even the pro-Modi media was unable to ignore Rahul’s hug.

He needed to do a lot more things that pro-Modi media could not afford to ignore. He needed to produce visuals to overshadow the Narendra Modi image factory – visuals that communicated his ideas. Instead, when he went for the Mansarovar Yatra he produced clumsy images looking like a happy tourist rather than a Hindu pilgrim. He also takes frequent foreign holidays and even when he’s in India, he ‘disappears’ from media limelight for days on end. Modi, by contrast, makes sure you see him doing something or the other every day as part of his permanent campaign strategy.

To impress upon people that he was worried about unemployment and farmers’ distress and the falling revenues of small businesses, Rahul Gandhi should have come up with ways to communicate through images, symbols, and media gimmicks that can’t be ignored like a dead cat on the table.

Views are personal.

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47 COMMENTS

  1. Narendra Modi will now study NYAY and implement something close to it so that it is not brought up again in the next election.

  2. On Hind sight One can say many things. Why did YOU not give these advices before?

  3. Shyam Vij One can understand d frustration in U & fixer Mr.Shekhar Gupta & co.Its people like u, chor shekhar gupta, halala produc tion Barkha Rand + others who contineously misguided khangress big wigs abt ground realities.How long we have to tolerate media fixers like ur boss Shekhar Gupta+ Barkha bano + similar other media dalals??

  4. It is akin to telling the dumbest student how to top his class by just following the brightest student’s footmarks. If Rahul would have done what all things author is recommending,who would be called a ‘Pappu’ then ?

  5. Why don’t people accept that religious fundamentalism has won. Of course, the Choukidar Chor shouting was unwanted. Even if he, Rahul, followed what the writer has detailed, the partisan media woul have seen to it that nothing was published. The entire Hindutuva groups had ganged against supporters of religious pluralism and won. That is all.

    • Can you please give examples of the partisan media? Was it the English media that was partisan? Do you think TV channels like NDTV were pro-Modi? Do you think ‘The Print’ was biased towards Modi? What about Indian Express, The Hindu, India Today? Please enlighten us on the role media played in Modi’s victory. Honestly many of us would like to know?

      • if u cant see the media or rather mass media has bee either bought or intimidated, then u must be living in a parallel cuckoo universe where modi ji is the god and u guys are his desciples….fact is not just media, but every single insitutiom in this country is used to pursue their agenda which is either winning elections are harassing the opposition….its a pity u cant see thru it….

      • It is interesting that you mention newspapers like the Indian Express and the Hindu.

        The Hindu is certainly not pro-Modi ; you can probably say it is anti-Modi.

        The Indian Express is more pro-Modi than the Hindu.

        What is telling is that you have not mentioned Times of India which is completely pro-Modi ; incidentally the ToI has the maximum circulation in the country , with the maximum number of editions from the maximum number of cities in the country.

        Secondly , you mention the NDTV , which is certainly not pro-Modi , though post his re-election , even the NDTV has started leaning towards the BJP.

        Why have you not mentioned Republic TV and Zee News , both of which are as good as propaganda arms of the BJP and the Government ?

        Why have you not mentioned the free run that NaMo TV enjoyed , despite flouting all the rules ?

        Honestly , many of us would like to know how Modi supporters have managed to convince themselves that the media is against their idol.

      • Pranay Roy wasted two days of coverage on a village girl trying to extract points on cow distress. I started wondering as to why NDTV doesn’t pitch in to become official manager of Congress’election campaign?

    • “partisan media” LOL,

      unless you mean pro-Congress. The fact was Rahul and secus had no leg to stand on. Problem Rahul had was poor advisors. Ideologists are poor advisors. Therefore Rahul lost. His advisors tried to copy past experience regarding corruption accusation against Rajiv & Manhoman Singh government. But they had no proof other than claims by some portals & people like Gardabharajn & Venu. One of the reason it did not stuck was they were accusing a man who had no children & whose family were living very frugal life in far off place from Delhi.

  6. ” moribund organisation.”

    It is this organization that has kept his family in power for so long. Nehru family is Queen bee and Congress leaders & workers are soldiers & worker bees. Queen can not survive without them. Also Congress priority is different from secus.

    Top priority for Congress is survival. With his young age Rahul can wait for ten years to become PM.. He would sacrifice secularism for Congress survival, while secus want him to sacrifice Congress, by going all out losing war with BJP, for secularism.

  7. Supreme court ne kaha .. Chowkidar Chor Hai… // that lost credibility… Supreme Court forced him to apologize.. and RG blew the apology at the first affidavit … Hey Mr Vij tell it like it is. Now you also lost credibility. See you at Khan Market , Sushi anyone ???

  8. “Chowkidar chor Hai” was a stupid slogan. Large numbers of people in the U.P and Bihar have some or other relative, even if distant, who is a chowkidar, or maybe an ex serviceman, etc.
    A very lame and stupid slogan – wonder if rahul coined it himself.

  9. Problem with this article. is that it written by emotions, rather than logic. What it is trying to convey is it is possible to change five years of work by one day gimmick. BJP won based on it delivery of it’s welfare project to poor people. Congress did not do any such thing. Secus lack imagination. They are more like Xerox machine. They can only copy ideas from foreign countries, without realizing the difference that India presents.

    • Well said. Too much Western influence…NYT, Washington Post, The Economist, Guardian etc etc are their sacred publications when they emphatically state their case, however weak because it is not just lacking in imagination but also good intent. But their insincerity is not hidden from the intelligent and discerning jury, which in this case is the under-estimated Indian voters.

    • five years of work done by who???what work??? i dont see any work done anywhere??? may be he gave free cylinders and toilets,,,that is not work…..

      • To you in your ivory tower it is not work. But to very poor it is difference between living in smoky highly suffocating environment vs. little cleaner environment. Poor is not looking for Taj Mahal. They wont to see ease in their lives. So they voted for BJP, while you secus living in ivory tower voted for Congress. Unfortunately because of long Congress rule there are far more poor than people like you living in ivory tower.

        So you have to wait until people waiting in ivory tower outnumber poor people. The your Congress has chance.

        • there was a survey done that said only about 50 percent of poor got the cyliders and toilets and out of that a stag erring 65% of those toilets dont have running water( many people are using that as go downs) …these people are still shitting in public…do u know what that means….:???the same survey said, 80 % of people who got cylinders dont have money to refill( gas prices have gone up considerably)….these are nothing but election freebie jumlas from tax payers money…this is not nation building(nation builing is real tangible things that have far reacing implications in terms of peoples actual upliftment)….if congress does the same things, u guys scream its populism for votes but the same thing(only thing) modidoes, ur all praising…i think u guys need to adjust and moral compass to guage a leader fairly

          • There is question of reliability of the survey. Were they neutral or were they anti-BJP? By putting fakes stories secus have lost credibility.

            Most of these surveys were done with selective sampling to fulfill an agenda. The fact that bulk of those poor voted for BJP shows that they must have benefited, al though Muslims due to their fanaticism may not have voted for BJP, even when they Benefited.

        • anf fyi, i dont sit in an ivory tower….i work for an NGO that does work i villages in karnataka…….i know what i am talking about

          • No problem with you guys is you are convinced that Modi can not do anything good. So basically you are like Ostrich putting it’s head in sand.

            One can not argue logically if he or she has pre-conceived notion.

      • Fair enough. Maybe you didn’t see any work but I guess a lot of voters did see the work and experience the change with toilets, free cylinders, Jan Dhan accounts etc. In your individual opinion, this may not be work, because you probably had toilets, cylinders, bank accounts etc. But for those who are having all this for the first time in their lives, maybe this was solid work.

        • all the things u said r nothing but A HOGWASH,…see my reply to “harry” for my thoughts….this election was won by brain washing people about fundamnatlism of hindutva(if i ignore the theory that the whole elections were rigged, although the actual number that BJP got were i dont think the actual mood of the people)…period…..everybody knows that….shame on hindus to have become like this

          • Shame on you to think that only you are “right” and all others are wrong, Mr Deepak. You can keep your eyes shut forever and keep believing that evms are faulty, or that bjp winning by some cheap trick of fooling everyone Everytime. It won’t matter.

    • Boss – This election, majorly, even dogs and donkeys would have won with Modi as its leader’s name. It was only about Modi. And its the emotion at play here more than logic. Even Modi himself said, chemistry trumped Arithmetics.

      Meaning how one can “control and msnipulate” thoughts.

  10. 1. I wish to take this opportunity to place before readers my observations. 2. When Rahul Gandhi criticized PM Narendra Modi for the NDA government’s failures, what did he offer? He offered promises which most citizen-voters rejected as empty promises. 2. Did he offer any programme for creation of jobs or for dealing with black money problem? He did nothing of that sort. 3. Rahul Gandhi made repeated allegations about difficulties faced by traders regarding GST. But he failed to offer any viable solutions. In short, Rahul Gandhi failed miserably to prove that he could be an efficient PM. 4. When Rahul Gandhi criticized Rafale deal and alleged that PM Narendra Modi was corrupt, no one believed him. Did he offer to implement any policy to end corruption in defence equipment procurement? He did nothing of that sort. 5. Obviously, in 2024 for the Lok Sabha election, the Congress as also all regional parties will have to find a new leader as Rahul Gandhi would not be acceptable to almost all anti-BJP regional parties. The new leader must have capability to bring Congress & other opposition parties together on a common platform with a realistic agenda which would reassure voters that their alliance government would deliver good governance, even better than that of BJP led NDA government.

  11. Shivam Vij: you are still at it? Do you require another consignment of BURNOL?

    Most hilarious was RG announcing days before the results:

    “I have dismantled….shattered Modi’s image”

    Yeah, DISMANTLED and SHATTERED…..

    What a shattering climax ! For both RG and Shivam Vij.

    Both of you need to do much much more to even approach the incandescent image of Modi among the masses.
    (So glad that the shocking chowkidar slur got a most befitting response — while MSM media chuckled and kept a deafening silence — the people gave a resounding slap to the mother son duo out on bail in the National Herald scam case).

    As they say: THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE IS THE VOICE OF GOD!

  12. “With one gimmick he turned loss into victory”. What ‘victory’? That WINK following the obviously FAKE hug said it all. Rahul was NEVER SINCERE. Talking of ‘Love’ for Modi, when he was only pouring scorn and abuse on Modi, all the seven months of campaign?

  13. He would appoint advisors like you next time. Modi will still outsmart him as he is also reading what you are suggesting to him. Do not give any advise to Raga in public.

  14. This man is so negative in his approach. His earlier articles on HuffPost too were so filled with negative psychology. With friends like these, the Left-liberals don’t need enemies.

  15. Instead of wasting readers time, Shivam should join Congress and then test his prescriptions there. Unless he had first hand ground experience, he will continue churning untested theories, a domain of left liberals who can’t think that 2+2 can be different from 4 if the + operator is different from base 10 arithmetic..

  16. The analysis is superficial and arguments are perfunctory and specious. The foremost reason why Rahul Gandhi lost was lack of credibility. Hug and wink theatrics has nothing to do with electoral defeat or victory. Building credibility is always a gradual process- brick by brick. Rahul Gandhi was never consistent. He hugged and thereafter winked. The message he conveyed was that he was not serious in whatever he was attempting. The entire focus was only on Rafale allegations, without producing any evidence whatsoever. Nor did Rahul join the petition in the Supreme Court. Why? It gave a message that he was not serious. Some documents emerged relating Rafale; but Rahul had nothing to do with the exercise. It was the Hindu who should get the credit, even though the documents too cannot prove anything tangible. Beyond Rafale, Rahul had nothing. The NYAY was invented at the eleventh hour. Rahul himself was not aware of the exact nature of the scheme and could not explain it properly in the press conference. The best weapon he could have had against Modi was lost due lack of knowledge and inability of presentation. The bitter and blunt truth is that Rahul Gandhi doesn’t deserve to be the head of the principal opposition party. He is there because he is grandson of Indira Gandhi and son of Rajiv Gandhi.

  17. Brilliant article – I am left wondering what have you been smoking? Waise, election se pehle yeh sab mujhe nahi bataya ?

  18. As far as Rafale goes, Rahul should have focused only on the procedural lapses and not flung accusations at Modi, Ambani etc. He should not have given more than 20% weightage to Rafale anyway , in his campaign.

    But his rough language and inadequate analysis of complex issues made sure that the public wrote him off.

  19. To come up with solutions to problems, the leader need to have connect with the people, he has to have a hard working team and he himeslef needs to be a 24 x 7 leader and not one who gives some slogans which does not make any sense. The most important difference between Modi and Rahul is that fhe former had the trust of the people, whereas no one trusted Rahul even if he made promises of Rs 72000.

  20. NM was defeated in several occasions in by-polls,state polls after2015 on words but failed in general election mainly due to hijacking of election with systematic malpractice in evm with the support of EC. Hence this type of analysis has no meaning in absolute sence.

  21. Too simplistic Shivam JI except for your point on ‘problem solver’. Also, instead of indirect references to Rahul’s vacations, it is now important to state it upfront that Modi leads a more transparent, simple and disciplined life than the dynast. He works for his living, just like you and I do. He is similar to any corporate executive who joined as a trainee and went on to become the CEO. The millennials appreciate that approach to life more than being a son of a mother (“cub of a tigress” as one NDTV journalist termed him), who was wife of a former PM, who in turn was the son of a grief-stricken former PM…

  22. Just one point. Stupid author of this highly paid article is praising pappu for hugging PM but what about his wink

  23. What a myopic view. Not understood elections at all.. Congress do not have presence in UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nade, AP, Telengana, , Odisha which account for 222 seats in Indian parliament. How can Rahul defeat Modi when he can actually contest only in the balance 320 seats. When the schemes of Modi Government have delivered benefits to people directly there is no way any party could have beaten Modi this time. Because those who were the beneficiaries and those who thought they will get the benefits when he is voted back this time is the reason for this mandate for Modi. The journalists keep analysing the verdict in their own prism and come to wrong conclusions.

  24. Why is Print allowing these liberal meltdown articles? Are your funders/ advertisers ok with allowing this platform for liberal self-catharsis? Their being out of touch with reality is their personal problem, not the readers.

  25. i dont think modi cud have been defeated in this election,,the simple reason being hindus have be brain washed into thinking about modi being “VIRAT HINDU” who has come in this age to take hindustan back to its glory(what ever that means)….there a systematic propaganda pursued successfully by modi/shah that emphasize on hindu domination and how it is hindu’s time after being persecuted for so long(again what ever that means, i dont get it, but majority hindus have bought in to it)….the only way to defeat modi now is to de hypnotize the hindus and focus on real issues that effect them….whether congress can do it or not remains to be seen….when ever i talk to my “fellow hindus”, i sense some kind of anger which is very palpable and it has no direction,,,some hate congress, some hate muslims etcetc….this venom that is filled inside hindus by modi/shah propaganda has to be countered and people should be bought back to normalcy…if not INDIA IS DOOMED AND SO IS CONGRESS

  26. The short point is General Rahul Gandhi should not run away from the battlefield. That is not what Lord Krishna would have advised Arjuna to do. Not Bill Clinton, Tony Blair or Barack Obama, roughly his age when they came to power, but the best the Congress has. After a few months, one is unable to judge whether Ms Priyanka Gandhi is transformative, transcendental, but she can certainly help him in his task as he goes about breathing fire into a largely moribund organisation.

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