New Delhi: That one of Rahul Gandhi’s most powerful photographs was clicked on Gandhi Jayanti is somewhat poetic, given that when the Bharat Jodo Yatra was conceived at the Congress’s ‘Nav Sankalp Shivir’ in May, the idea was to “go back to what Mahatma Gandhi would do”.
Armed with that photo of him delivering a speech in heavy rain in Karnataka’s Mysuru, the Congress’s communication machinery has a simple message — Rahul can withstand the rain to address the masses, unlike Prime Minister Narendra Modi who, the party contends, needs a “teleprompter” and an “umbrella“.
“Nothing can stop us,” a drenched Rahul declared during his speech on 2 October. While the ‘rain photo’ has been the biggest hit so far, many other “feel good” videos have surfaced since the beginning of the Congress’s nationwide march.
One such video showed Rahul walking alongside an exhausted old woman and offering her water, another showed him helping a girl wear shoes, and yet another showed him speaking to a girl from Karnataka who lost her parents to Covid-19.
Leader with the humane touch.
— Anshuman Sail (@AnshumanSail) September 18, 2022
The day after his speech in Mysuru, the Congress circulated a photo of the young leader trying to peel sugarcane with his teeth.
During the Kerala phase of the yatra, a few days before the Mysuru speech, another video surfaced that showed Rahul joking with party leaders and pulling former Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala’s leg. Rahul was narrating to Kerala Congress leaders how he and Chennithala weren’t sure whether a samosa served to them during a pit stop was vegetarian or not.
“I asked the server and he told me that it was ‘half veg, half non-veg’,” says Rahul, and the Kerala Congress leaders break into laughter.
Laughter – the cure to anything!
— Bharat Jodo (@bharatjodo) September 30, 2022
Another video shows Rahul narrating to party leaders how, every time he feels tired or his knee hurts, he draws motivation from a fellow ‘yatri’. He even pulls out a letter he received from a young girl to illustrate his point.
‘Focus on Rahul’
Members of the Congress’s communication wing say these visuals aim to combat two major criticisms frequently raked up by Rahul’s detractors — that he is a privileged dynast and an inaccessible leader. Several Congress leaders who have quit Congress over the last few years have also levelled similar charges against the MP from Wayanad.
Vaibhav Walia, secretary in-charge of the Congress’s communications department, tells ThePrint: “For years now, BJP has been trying to create an image of Rahul Gandhi via paid propaganda, which is very different from the kind of human being he is.”
“We’re very glad that via this yatra, people are getting to know the real Rahul Gandhi. He is always available for his party workers,” adds Walia, who is among those walking the entire length of the yatra.
Since the yatra began on 7 September, Rahul has maintained that he is not “leading” it and is merely a part of it.
In one of the two press conferences he’s addressed, he even berated the media when asked whether he was “leading” the nationwide march and if he was in the running for the post of Congress president: “You choose to focus on me but the idea of the yatra is to involve hundreds of Congress workers.”
Walia says that all the yatris eat, stay and sleep alongside Rahul Gandhi and for the hundred-odd people who are determined to walk the entire length of the march, access to him and other senior leaders serves as motivation.
“Every alternate day, the yatris sit together and talk to him. He is spending hours talking to different groups. Every day, 4-5 Bharat yatris walk with him for 20 minutes to half an hour,” Walia points out.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)