The best advice, at times, comes from one’s greatest adversary. It may not always be sincere and well-intentioned like a teacher’s admonishment or avuncular chiding. It may arrive dripping in sarcasm and in-your-face ridicule. But an intelligent man would get the point. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress president, should take note.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi compared him to a stuck gramophone, he could well be articulating the exasperation of millions of Indians at the Gandhi scion’s speeches. With all his speeches appearing as copy-paste lifts from his earlier ones, Rahul surely comes across as a dull boy in class who would go blank if he cannot recover an answer from rote memory. In the beginning, he was so obsessed with the suit-boot jibe against Modi that he could not utter anything beyond it at his rallies. The audience was utterly tired of it by the time he decided to move on.
Now, he appears to be stuck on the “Chowkidar chor hai (the watchman is a thief)” line. The novelty factor of the slogan worked on the audience for some time. There were lusty “chor hai”rejoinders from the crowd whenever he uttered “Chowkidar”. But like in the case of all slogans, the novelty wore off soon. As a leader speaking to an audience, Rahul should have sensed it and shifted to something new. He hasn’t. According to news reports, chowkidars are so irritated with the slogan that they have decided to move court. Apparently, they want the court to instruct him to refrain from making such derogatory references to their profession.
Overkill is counterproductive, meaning anything overdone produces the exact opposite of the intended impact. It seems no one told Rahul that. Or, it is possible he is so impressed with his own public speaking ability that he is unable to acknowledge the yawn-inducing quality of his speeches. Whatever the case, he could be driving his listeners to appreciate Modi more. At least, the latter knows how to engage them and make their presence at the rally ground worth it.
So what’s wrong? Lots, in fact. To begin with, Rahul is not a gifted speaker like the prime minister. Modi is brilliant at using pauses, pitch, physicality and intonation in his speeches. Like a seasoned stage performer, he can sense the mood of his audience and is not averse to resorting to theatrics to hold their attention. Even on a bad day, he can deliver a good performance.
When one doesn’t have the natural ability to entertain the audience, one needs to compensate for it with good content. It keeps listeners interested. Elections are, after all serious business. The leader needs to communicate the issues that matter to the layman. He can be convincing without being overdramatic. He can be persuasive without catchy slogans to burnish his speech with. Rahul’s speeches lack content. This is surprising, considering there is so much to talk about.
There are serious issues of joblessness, shrinking growth, farmer suicides, disruption at the lower end of the economy and mob violence to discuss. Also, he can challenge the government on demonetisation, surgical strikes, flawed implementation of GST and the festering Kashmir issue. For any smart leader, these would be easy subjects to go to the public with. Rahul has been raising some of these off and on during his election rallies. But conspicuous in its absence is coherence.
Coherence is critical because it helps build a narrative, which is reflective of the broad worldview of the party. At this point, the BJP has a narrative built around nationalism, security and Hindutva, while the Congress has none. If Rahul wants to be a challenger to Modi, he has to work towards building a coherent argument against the BJP’s narrative.
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