Lutyens' ecosystem around Rahul Gandhi

Lutyens' ecosystem around Rahul Gandhi

 Lutyens' ecosystem around Rahul Gandhi is working overtime to help him succeed in Gujarat 

Article first published in (click here)

Even as a “non-fan” of the “Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty”, I would be dishonest not to acknowledge the traction Rahul Gandhi seems to be drawing on his Gujarat campaign trail. Also not to be missed is the nascent euphoria in sections of the media and liberal circles that went into depression after the BJP’s clean sweep in Uttar Pradesh. Though premature, their jubilation is understandable at the prospects of a credible challenge to the till now seemingly unstoppable Modi-Shah juggernaut.

It would also be disingenuous, on my part, to deny that the BJP is not displaying any signs of nervousness. Whether it is the Patidar angst or a revitalised Congress, it is apparent that BJP has shed its complacency. The stray bravado one still hears is more from their visiting central leaders and social media warriors. The Gujarat BJP stalwarts are more cautious in their utterances displaying signs of well-advised maturity and sobriety.

The opinion polls of various TV channels, while predicting a clear BJP majority, are indicating that it would most certainly not be a ‘walkover’ for them. No matter whom they ultimately vote for, the ordinary Gujarati voter, from all accounts, is enjoying the thrill of contest and the discomfiture of the local leaders who, many feel, had started taking them for granted.

It is natural for the media and the Congress establishment to compliment Rahul Gandhi for the discernable headwind against BJP. Some are inclined to bill it as a “revival” of Rahul, which is a bit of a misnomer since he does not have any past record of consequence to rebuild. Nor has Rahul displayed any visible leadership prowess and has largely come across as a celebrity poster boy playing to a script written by others. However, it would be fair to call it the “resurgence” of the Congress or, more accurately, of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty, of which Rahul Gandhi is the new mascot.

File image of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

What is interesting though is to observe and analyse in some detail the ecosystem that is working to make Rahul tick. It is as if the constituents around Rahul have realised that their own survival depends on his success.

So, at one level we have Ashok Gehlot chaperoning him on the campaign trail with a smile permanently pasted on his face like the proud family retainer introducing the “US returned” scion to the subjects. Then there is the trusted Estate Manager, or the 10 Janpath equivalent of the Lord Chamberlain as it were, Ahmed Patel, who has been entrusted by the Queen Mother to install the crown Prince on the throne. Patel is clearly in charge of the war-room, presiding over strategy and planning each detail.

Operating from the wings is the benign and brainy uncle, Sam Pitroda, who has taken it upon himself to ensure the succession of his departed friend’s lineage. He was the architect of Rahul’s US trip to establish his intellectual credentials among the American opinion leaders having realised that Modi has hugely built his stature as a leader to reckon with in the global community. Pitroda is also believed to be the brains behind Rahul’s digital PR and social media strategy including appointment of the international electoral communication consultants, Cambridge Analytica.

On call are retainers like Kapil Sibal to conduct difficult negotiations that have a high legal or constitutional component, such as “reservations” for Patidars. Pitroda has reportedly flown down to Ahmedabad and is camping there to finalise the Congress’ election manifesto.

It is worth noting that throughout the campaign, Rahul himself is doing all the talking. Motor mouths like Digvijaya Singh have been packed off on their respective Narmada Yatras lest they queer the pitch by another irresponsible remark. Talking heads like Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram are requisitioned purely on a need basis to speak on subjects of their expertise like the economy, demonetisation or GST and quietly withdraw to the side line.

What is less apparent to the public eye is the amount of investment that is going into this ‘re-launch’ of Rahul Gandhi. So far it was the BJP that was seen being bankrolled by industrialists and political donors. Now, they seem to be hedging their bets with Congress. Their disenchantment with the BJP is palpable, if not wholly visible, as they have realised there are no free rides with Narendra Modi.

Similarly, forces that were earlier trying to prop up alternative formations, such as the AAP, have now decided to conserve their resources and go with Congress. They have been able to co-opt other constituencies who are embittered BJP detractors.

As per the Lutyens’ grapevine, Sonia Gandhi had confided to a media baroness in 2014 how donations to the party had dried up. Post the elections, Congress was reported to be almost on the verge of bankruptcy. It is common knowledge how one former chief minister fell from grace for refusing to contribute to one of Rahul Gandhi’s rallies in Maharashtra. Obviously, the party’s balance sheet has improved considerably since then, which is for all to see in the scale of the campaign and crowd mobilisation for Rahul’s rallies.

To Rahul’s credit, it must be said that he has proved to be a willing learner. One cannot say for sure if it is Aikido or some other regime that has helped improve his discipline and mental stamina. Finally, he seems to be comfortable in his own skin. Though still prone to the occasional gaffes, he is showing a sense of purpose and determination. Above all, he is clearly enjoying himself, which is most important in any job.

Whether Rahul Gandhi has found his mojo or not, the team assigned to him has clearly got its act together. All this shows a very high order of strategic planning by a small group of family and very close friends, perhaps with help from a few trusted confidantes. One can only guess the composition of this core group.

It would be safe to assume that they are working as per a mandate of Sonia Gandhi, who has realised it is a now or never moment for her son to finally take over the reigns from her.

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