The Gandhis, many would agree, are India’s most powerful political family as they head the most successful political party in independent India’s history.
Astonishing, however, is their continued strategy of limited communication. The Gandhis never take questions, in public or in the media. Neither Sonia Gandhi, nor Rahul Gandhi – people who control the reins of our democracy – ever give a TV or a newspaper interview. They address political rallies with well-rehearsed speeches. There are no interactive sessions or audience questions. The rare press conference is stage-managed, with answers that often deflect the issues and no counter-questioning allowed.
The family doesn’t give any views on issues affecting the country. It feels like it is beneath their stature to get involved in everyday affairs or with the commoners. They behave like rulers, not leaders. A few party members are often seen defending them. Meanwhile, the family sits in their castle smiling and waving at the crowds, the latter just happy to get a glance from the rulers.
However ridiculous the above approach may sound, it has worked. A large proportion of the Indian population still sees the Gandhis as rulers, who shower us with their benevolence and provide cheap rice or reservation quotas (or the latest claim – mobile phones, as the Congress party ‘allowed’ this western invention to be sold here). There are plenty of people who still worship the Gan-dhis, and are ready to fall at their feet simply because they are Gandhis.
At the same time, the world has changed. The silent treatment just doesn’t work with people in the digitally connected world. Social networks, multiple TV channels, mobile phone updates are tools that didn’t exist in India two decades ago. Their penetration has, and will continue to grow in the coming few years.
People expect rapid, direct, relevant and heartfelt communication from people in charge. These expectations rise in times of a crisis, which the nation has seen aplenty in the recent past. Whether it is rampant corruption, record inflation or the latest, the safety of citizens – the Gandhis have notanswered any questions. This has riled the educated middle classes.
The anger seen at India Gate was not just for one particular case or issue. It was an outpouring against an uncaring and indifferent government. Does even the most blatant, violent rape of a common citizen not deserve a discussion? Should citizens not want to know what the views of the people in charge, which in this case happens to be the family, are?
The people want the family to talk – not spokespersons, agents, sycophants or trained deflectors. They also want the family to speak with sincerity and what they truly feel, not read from rehearsed scripts. This is why the PM’s relatively harmless ‘theek hai’ caused so much outrage. It cemented the belief that the PM didn’t speak from the heart.
Should the Congress change this strategy? After all, who cares about a few angry tweets when the muteness has worked well politically? However, the silence is a mistake. It is not inflation, corruption or even lack of safety that will ultimately bring the Congress down.
What will make people lose faith is this silence, now coming across as a mix of smug arrogance, incompetence and lack of compassion. This silence once meant res-traint and poise. Today, it is seen as insensitive. If there is one thing the Congress party should, and could, easily change is to get the Gandhis to talk – not just read out speeches, but engage, interact and respond to questions and concerns.
One of the biggest and somewhat underplayed threats to the Gandhis and the Congress is Narendra Modi. His third victory in Gujarat may not have made earth-shattering news, as expected. However, people are underestimating what it means for India’s politics. Not only did Modi win the third time, he did so without using any communal card. Resisting the temptation to use divisive politics, which always worked for him, wouldn’t have been easy. However, he adapted to the changing times.
Some analysts argue that Modi’s autocratic style and polarising nature make him unfit to be a player in national politics. Again, they are reading Modi wrong. Modi is not as communal as he is opportunistic. Like any astute politician, he adapts to the new reality. Modi 1.0 was about Hindu politics. Modi 2.0 was about state development. And now, we will see a new version of him. Whether it is keeping his pride aside and taking sweets for the losing opponent Keshubhai
Patel; or rendering a broad apology, right after his victory, for any of his mistakes – Modi is adapting to Modi 3.0 – the accommodative, inclusive and consensus-driven version.
It will be foolish to write him off, or to think he won’t be able to make a few friends and tone down his rhetoric to make political gains. A good politician adjusts without being handicapped by his ego. At present there is no reason to believe Modi won’t be able to do so. This new Modi 3.0 threat alone is reason enough for the Gandhi family to change its tactics.
The above should not be construed as support for Modi, or condemnation of the Congress or the family. It’s simply the new reality of Indian politics. The fact is that if Rahul and Sonia start engaging with the people, the Congress can regain a lot of the lost trust. Similarly, if Modi falters in adapting to Modi 3.0, he won’t go much further either.
Overall, our leaders upgrading to better versions is good for Indian politics, and for Indian people. As Darwin said, the strongest or most intelligent don’t survive, those who adapt the best, do. The Gandhis need to eliminate their ego and adapt. They need to talk.