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Congress and its repeated attempts to repackage crown prince Rahul Gandhi

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is on a month-long Kisan Yatra in the state, hoping to sell some farm-fresh ideas to the electorate that has over the years reduced his party to an also-ran.

Pathikrit Sen Gupta        Last Updated: September 21, 2016  | 09:54 IST
Congress and its repeated attempts to repackage crown prince Rahul Gandhi

Sleepy little villages in pollbound Uttar Pradesh can now get some shuteye, thanks to the Congress and its trailblazing veep.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is on a month-long Kisan Yatra in the state, hoping to sell some farm-fresh ideas to the electorate that has over the years reduced his party to an also-ran. But his attempts to make a splash with Khat Sabhas, or cot meetings, as part of a major outreach programme turned nightmarish when people attending the events took home the charpoys after having their fill of refreshments on offer.

So the bed-and-breakfast scheme may be a hit with the locals but it's also a wake-up call for the party. For yet another attempt to repackage its crown prince seems to be assuming the form of a Hamlet-esque tragedy - "not to be".

Let's face it: the 46-year-old Gandhi scion has attempted more comebacks than cargo pants and in less-pocket-friendly ways. The Congress reportedly spent hundreds of crores on PR and advertising firms ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls on a marketing blitzkrieg for Brand Rahul. The results cannot be explained away by any "zero loss" theories.

Since then the party has capitulated in every state election, except Bihar where it is a junior partner in the ruling alliance.

The Congress has roped in Prashant Kishor to help coordinate its UP strategy, the same man who aided Narendra Modi's march to 7, RCR with a campaign that embraced modern electioneering techniques and wowed voters.

But the poll wizard is still rummaging through his bag of tricks to pull out a magical remedy for the grand old party that has spent the past two years licking its wounds after the worst electoral drubbing in its history.

The cot plot has seemingly flopped and Kishor who made his bed must now lie in it. After all, he picked a product to market that appears to be way past its sell-by date.

The challenge for Rahul - the son, grandson, and great-grandson of prime ministers - is to make up lost ground in time for next year's UP elections, his biggest test before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

However, critics have often said that the shy, dimpled bachelor is devoid of ideas, or a grand vision for what he wants to do for the country. Rebels and disgruntled workers have accused him of being inaccessible.

Even disillusioned Congress supporters have argued that he has failed to inspire confidence, and it's time for new young leaders to push aside the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and stem the decline.

Rahul loyalists though still believe that he would find a way to thread the needle and sew up his tattered party. So far, their Pavlovian response has been to close ranks behind him and insist that there is nothing wrong with his strategies despite a string of defeats.

The Uttar Pradesh electorate cannot accuse him of lack of trying. Rahul headlined the 2007 assembly election campaign events for his party here, but netted just 22 of the more than 400 seats on offer.

He marched through the state's dusty plains again five years later, attempting an image makeover by sleeping in Dalit homes, courting arrest, addressing over 200 rallies and even growing stubble. The party bagged four more seats this time.

Detractors see the MP as a parttime politician who makes sporadic interventions in issues of national interest with a shootand-scoot style of attacking the BJP-led government.

Last year brought another Rahul reboot with his "suit-boot ki sarkar" jibe at Modi and his team. After a mysterious weekslong sabbatical, the Congress leader displayed a fire-in-thebelly determination, joining student protesters on the barricades, showing solidarity with drought-hit farmers and hitting the campaign trail up and down the country. He was like an action figure come to life.

The long-time social media refusenik also finally let his office get a handle on Twitter where the BJP and Modi have been trendsetters.

However, his canvassing in crucial state elections failed to deliver the votes, raising further questions about his leadership abilities.

His "arhar Modi" dig at the PM and runaway dal prices during Parliament's monsoon session this year led supporters to believe that Rahul finally had his finger on the nation's pulse.

But then he made a series of dizzying twists and turns over his remarks blaming the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for Mahatma Gandhi's assassination.

Though the Congress is unlikely to win the Uttar Pradesh elections, if it were to improve its share of votes, the Amethi MP would have cleared a crucial leadership test. If, however, he fails again, it would be time for the party to stop trying to remake him and write a fresh script with a brand-new protagonist.

Uttar Pradesh awaits Rahul's tryst with destiny.

The writer is Senior Assistant Editor, Mail Today

In association with Mail Today Bureau

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