Rahul Gandhi In Arunachal

Can Rahul Pull It Off As Prime Minister

As the battle for the most powerful and prestigious chair in the country rages on, many voters have put their penny on Rahul Gandhi as the next Prime Minister of India. Does the Gandhi scion has the mettle to handle the power and responsibility that comes with the post? In a new series of articles, LokMarg will examine the various contenders for the Prime Minister’s job, starting with the arch-challenger, Rahul Gandhi.

Well before Rahul Gandhi took over as the Congress president, a large section of his own party members were not sure that he had the capacity to lead them. After all, the Nehru-Gandhi scion had acquired a reputation of being a non-serious politician who was yet to get a firm grip on the party’s organization. In addition, he had an uneasy relationship with other opposition parties and was unable to connect with the public on account of his poor oratorical skills.

The fact that Rahul Gandhi had been unsuccessful in delivering electoral victories for the party was another negative. These doubts about his leadership qualities were further fuelled by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s relentless and highly successful campaign, dubbing Rahul Gandhi as “Pappu”.

However, there has been a dramatic change in Rahul Gandhi over the past eighteen months. His oratory has improved considerably though he is not in the same class as Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Congress president is gradually coming across as a mature politician, who is fighting shy of taking on the Modi government and is more focused on handling the party organization. Rahul Gandhi further redeemed himself with a credible performance in last year’s Gujarat assembly polls, which was followed by victories in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

More than a year after he took control of the party, the Congress president has finally shed the “pappu” image while his critics within the party have been effectively silenced.

ALSO READ: Transformation Of Rahul, Tweet By Tweet

But does this mean that Rahul Gandhi is now ready to shoulder the responsibility of leading the nation as its Prime Minister just in case the post-poll numbers favour the Congress. No,  the Congress president has still some distance to cover before he is accepted by the public at large as a credible alternative to Modi. For starters, he is sorely handicapped by his lack of administrative experience. Rahul Gandhi had an opportunity to fill this gap in his resume when he was offered a Cabinet berth in the Manmohan Singh government but he decided instead to focus on party affairs. Besides his lack of experience, Rahul Gandhi does not instill confidence in the voter that he can handle matters of state without fumbling or making a faux pas.

Congress leaders, of course, are quick to point out that his father Rajiv Gandhi also came with no previous experience in running a government when he took over as Prime Minister in 1984 in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. However, Rajiv Gandhi had the advantage of a massive majority in the Lok Sabha which enabled him to take decisive steps in both domestic and foreign affairs. Despite widespread skepticism, he pushed ahead with advances in information technology and telecommunications sectors. Rajiv Gandhi was also emboldened to take risky decisions like signing the Longowal accord in insurgency-hit Punjab, was responsible for a paradigm shift in Sino-India relations and sought to build bridges with Sri Lanka though he ended up paying a heavy price for it.

ALSO READ: Rahul’s Popularity On The Rise

Unlike his father, Rahul Gandhi is not expected to have the luxury of numbers in case he does get a shot at ascending the Prime Minister’s kursi. The Congress footprint has shrunk considerably over the past three decades and the party has gradually come to terms with the fact that it needs the support of coalition partners to come to power at the Centre as it cannot do on its own. There are lurking doubts that Rahul Gandhi has the temperament or the gravitas to deal with temperamental and demanding allies even if there is a remote possibility that the other opposition parties will concede the Prime Minister’s post to him. Undoubtedly, he will have to rely on Sonia Gandhi and other senior leaders like Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad to keep the allies in good humour.

Whatever other disadvantages he may have, the Congress president will have a large inhouse talent pool at his disposal to assist him in running the government. Besides, Rahul Gandhi comes with a long and rich legacy which is both a source of strength and weakness. On one hand, the party’s past experience provides a ready template for governance but on the other hand, it will also make it difficult for the young Gandhi to chart an independent path. Here, he will be hemmed in not just by his coalition partners but also by his party members. Remember the stiff resistance PV Narasimha Rao faced from Congress insiders when he deviated from the party’s set economic policy and drafted Manmohan Singh to liberalize the economy.

ALSO READ: Rahul Gandhi In A New Avatar

Nevertheless, the Congress brand name, though considerably diluted, will give Rahul Gandhi an edge over the other Prime Ministerial contenders in the opposition camp. The Nehru-Gandhi scion may be lacking in experience but he can always fall back on seasoned leaders like former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram, Anand Sharma and A.K. Antony to navigate him through possible minefields in the areas of economic and foreign affairs.

Like his mother, Rahul Gandhi has made it abundantly clear that he will build on the party’s pro-poor image with a special emphasis on addressing agrarian distress and the implementation of an income guarantee scheme for the needy as detailed in the party’s election manifesto. But it is equally certain that there will be no going back on economic reforms ushered in by Manmohan Singh.

Rajiv Gandhi’s friend Sam Pitroda is currently playing a key role in Rahul Gandhi’s dispensation and will continue to do so if the Congress president makes the cut as the country’s Prime Minister. Pitroda has been instrumental in planning and organizing Rahul Gandhi’s tours in the United States, Britain and the Middle East where he has interacted with both the Indian diaspora and global leaders, policy makers, think tanks and academics.

The intention is to position Rahul Gandhi as an international leader, to correct the perception that he is a dilettante, improve his image abroad and provide an opportunity to the outside world to get acquainted with his views on a vast array of subjects. As in the case of economic affairs, Rahul Gandhi is unlikely to deviate from the Congress position in the area of international affairs which will continue to focus on strengthening ties with both Russia and the United States and improving relations with the neighboring countries. An assurance to this effect has been conveyed during Rahul Gandhi’s trips abroad and his periodic meetings with visiting world leaders.

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Security Guards On Modi Campaign

WATCH – The Real Chowkidar Speaks Up

LokMarg went out on the streets of Delhi-NCR to engage with a number of real life chowkidars (security guards) to gauge the mood of the community after Prime Minister Narendra Modi put the focus on their profession by calling himself a chowkidar.

Out team spoke to Ratan Prasad in Loni, Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, Rajkumar in Delhi, Pramod Shukla from Ghaziabad and Jungbahadur from Pilibhit. They talk about their grueling work hours and the little that the government has done for them. However, their response to who they are going to vote for in the coming elections will surprise you no end. Do watch, comment and share.

For more such videos, go to our YouTube channel LokMarg here.

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#Election2019 – Gear Up For The Tamasha

Deepak Pant   Is it any wonder that ever more actors are moving to the political stage in India in recent years and decades? The phenomenon is not unique to India – remember Ronald Reagan – but there is something distinctive about politics and powerplay in India. Think about the cliché: change and continuity. The change is the all-pervasive efflorescence of the media since the early 1990s and the continuity is something rooted in the Indian psyche: ‘tamasha’, or spectacle. Put the two together and you get a semblance of understanding contemporary Indian politics. To be a successful ‘neta’ (leader), you have to be something of an ‘abhineta’ (actor). If elections can be won by tapping into the age-old attraction of ‘tamasha’ (remember 2014), the corollary is that the opposition can also play the same game and win an election using counter-‘tamasha’. The environment today is such that only those who can play the performance game through the media can hope to survive and thrive in electoral politics, and who better than actors to do this: Kamal Haasan, Smriti Irani, Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini, Jaya Prada, Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, NT Rama Rao, MG Ramachandran, J Jayalalitha…the list goes on. In other words, the situation in India resembles what an academic might call ‘the politics of permanent performance’; you need to be constantly seen to perform, even if you don’t actually do so in work, to sustain support of the people. It works for some time, until another – better? – ‘tamasha’ takes over. Those who gain power by and through the ‘tamasha’ route in the media face the prospect of losing by the same route. It was Neil Postman, who tellingly argued in 1985 that television has transformed culture into one vast arena for show business in which all public affairs – politics, religion, news, education, journalism, commerce – have been turned into a form of entertainment, or ‘tamasha’. His main contention is that the form of the media includes or excludes the quality of content: rational argument has long been central to print typography, but the form of television and television news excludes rationality since it is essentially a form, medium, devised for entertainment programming. Thus, politics and religion are diluted, and ‘news’ becomes a packaged commodity. Television de-emphasises the quality of information in favour of satisfying the far-reaching needs of entertainment, by which information is encumbered and to which it is subordinate. ‘Tamasha’ has long been one of the defining principles of political communication in India. It took various forms: such as staged satire and poetry in ‘mushairas’ and ‘kavi sammelans’, gossip, ballads, announcements of visits by leaders, processions (perfected by L K Advani’s ‘rath yatra’), street theatre, puppet shows, political verse set to popular Bollywood songs. These forms gained exponential reach and power with the proliferation of the media, including the internet and social media. Claims and counter-claims were equally able to disseminate quickly. Thus, it is no surprise that the opposition Congress also takes to similar idioms to attack the BJP in power: for example, Rahul Gandhi’s description of GST as ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ after the popular villain from ‘Sholay’, as well as his amusing, funny and entertaining quick-on-the-uptake posts on Twitter on issues of the day. During the 2014 elections, the Narendra Modi act – or, ‘tamasha’ – was highly effective. Here was a leader who spoke very well (compared to the then prime minister Manmohan Singh), promised the moon, seemed confident of cutting through bureaucratic and political cobwebs, was immensely entertaining, had tremendous confidence in his abilities to transform India, which the youth found attractive. It was a stellar performance across various media forms: radio, mobile, television, print, newspapers as well as holograms that enabled him to appear at public meetings at various locations simultaneously. Cut to end-2018 and the attraction of his ‘tamasha’ has waned. There are already reports of BJP candidates during recent elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan complaining that people no longer come to his rallies in large numbers. The same confident television appearances that attracted many in 2014 don’t seem to have the same pull now, if not a put-off. The key question now is: is the opposition capable of putting up a bigger, better ‘tamasha’ than the BJP during the 2019 elections? In 2014, it was claimed that the taciturn Manmohan Singh was ‘Modi’s most effective election agent’; the former’s persona was a contrast reference point that helped sell the Modi brand. In 2019, will Modi be ‘Rahul’s most effective election agent’? Rahul Gandhi’s stall of an inclusive, less-charged and less-divisive India will be pitted against the polarizing and polarized India symbolized by Modi and the BJP. The Nehru-Gandhi has long exploited the ‘tamasha’ in an India where feudal impulses are still influential. The outcome of the elections remains to be seen, but it is certain that ‘tamasha’ in various forms and media will reach a new high.  ]]>

Who Will Put Up A Bigger Tamasha In 2019 Elections?

Deepak Pant   Is it any wonder that ever more actors are moving to the political stage in India in recent years and decades? The phenomenon is not unique to India – remember Ronald Reagan – but there is something distinctive about politics and powerplay in India. Think about the cliché: change and continuity. The change is the all-pervasive efflorescence of the media since the early 1990s and the continuity is something rooted in the Indian psyche: ‘tamasha’, or spectacle. Put the two together and you get a semblance of understanding contemporary Indian politics. To be a successful ‘neta’ (leader), you have to be something of an ‘abhineta’ (actor). If elections can be won by tapping into the age-old attraction of ‘tamasha’ (remember 2014), the corollary is that the opposition can also play the same game and win an election using counter-‘tamasha’. The environment today is such that only those who can play the performance game through the media can hope to survive and thrive in electoral politics, and who better than actors to do this: Kamal Haasan, Smriti Irani, Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini, Jaya Prada, Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, NT Rama Rao, MG Ramachandran, J Jayalalitha…the list goes on. In other words, the situation in India resembles what an academic might call ‘the politics of permanent performance’; you need to be constantly seen to perform, even if you don’t actually do so in work, to sustain support of the people. It works for some time, until another – better? – ‘tamasha’ takes over. Those who gain power by and through the ‘tamasha’ route in the media face the prospect of losing by the same route. It was Neil Postman, who tellingly argued in 1985 that television has transformed culture into one vast arena for show business in which all public affairs – politics, religion, news, education, journalism, commerce – have been turned into a form of entertainment, or ‘tamasha’. His main contention is that the form of the media includes or excludes the quality of content: rational argument has long been central to print typography, but the form of television and television news excludes rationality since it is essentially a form, medium, devised for entertainment programming. Thus, politics and religion are diluted, and ‘news’ becomes a packaged commodity. Television de-emphasises the quality of information in favour of satisfying the far-reaching needs of entertainment, by which information is encumbered and to which it is subordinate. ‘Tamasha’ has long been one of the defining principles of political communication in India. It took various forms: such as staged satire and poetry in ‘mushairas’ and ‘kavi sammelans’, gossip, ballads, announcements of visits by leaders, processions (perfected by L K Advani’s ‘rath yatra’), street theatre, puppet shows, political verse set to popular Bollywood songs. These forms gained exponential reach and power with the proliferation of the media, including the internet and social media. Claims and counter-claims were equally able to disseminate quickly. Thus, it is no surprise that the opposition Congress also takes to similar idioms to attack the BJP in power: for example, Rahul Gandhi’s description of GST as ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ after the popular villain from ‘Sholay’, as well as his amusing, funny and entertaining quick-on-the-uptake posts on Twitter on issues of the day. During the 2014 elections, the Narendra Modi act – or, ‘tamasha’ – was highly effective. Here was a leader who spoke very well (compared to the then prime minister Manmohan Singh), promised the moon, seemed confident of cutting through bureaucratic and political cobwebs, was immensely entertaining, had tremendous confidence in his abilities to transform India, which the youth found attractive. It was a stellar performance across various media forms: radio, mobile, television, print, newspapers as well as holograms that enabled him to appear at public meetings at various locations simultaneously. Cut to end-2018 and the attraction of his ‘tamasha’ has waned. There are already reports of BJP candidates during recent elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan complaining that people no longer come to his rallies in large numbers. The same confident television appearances that attracted many in 2014 don’t seem to have the same pull now, if not a put-off. The key question now is: is the opposition capable of putting up a bigger, better ‘tamasha’ than the BJP during the 2019 elections? In 2014, it was claimed that the taciturn Manmohan Singh was ‘Modi’s most effective election agent’; the former’s persona was a contrast reference point that helped sell the Modi brand. In 2019, will Modi be ‘Rahul’s most effective election agent’? Rahul Gandhi’s stall of an inclusive, less-charged and less-divisive India will be pitted against the polarizing and polarized India symbolized by Modi and the BJP. The Nehru-Gandhi has long exploited the ‘tamasha’ in an India where feudal impulses are still influential. The outcome of the elections remains to be seen, but it is certain that ‘tamasha’ in various forms and media will reach a new high.  ]]>