OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.

The BBC summed it up best.

For a few hours on Monday umpteen Indian television channels moved away from previewing the India-Pakistan Twenty20 cricket final in South Africa to focus on the induction of Rahul Gandhi into the Congress party hierarchy

Rahul Gandhi will now hold a host of positions in the party: general secretary, member of the highest decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee, head of Youth Congress and National Students Union of India. He will also be a member of the party’s campaign committee.

Political commentator and psephologist Yogendra Yadav says Rahul Gandhi’s elevation is significant due to its timing. “There is nothing surprising about the move. It was predictable. It is the timing. It goes to show that the Congress is readying for a snap poll,” Mr Yadav says

Offstumped analyzes the political implications of the latest Congress move coming on the heels of a week of hectic political developments over the Ram Sethu controversy, the controversial ASI affidavit in the Supreme Court and Karunanidhi’s bigotry. Last week also saw the BJP hog the national headlines for right and wrong reasons.

There are many angles to the Rahul Gandhi elevation. The first being long overdue internship to keep the dynasty going. The second a belated attempt at changing the subject after weeks of being on the backfoot on account of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal and the Rama Sethu controversy. The third to set the stage for the likely political spin the Congress sympathetic media machine will deliver in the run up to the next election.

While the internship was expected  Offstumped doesnt expect the Rahul Gandhi elevation to change the national headlines significantly unless he injects himself into the debate and says something substantial or significant. Given his gaffes during the recent Uttar Pradesh campaign on the Babri Masjid issue his handlers in the Congress would quite likely have advised him to shut up and stay out of this issue. It is the third angle to his elevation that is most significant politically and fraught with a few challenges for the BJP.

To better understand this let us examine the responses of the BJP to his elevation. The BJP can either make his elevation an issue and go after him or treat his elevation as a non-issue and not pay much attention to him. The BJP chose to do the latter denying him anymore headlines than he is already gotten much thanks to a sympathetic media machine. While this makes sense in the short term the long term response needs to be different for the following reasons.

The Congress historically has swept the nation on broad national themes that peppered over regional differences and local issues. The last election with only national issues dominating the agenda was the 1991 election that saw Rajiv Gandhi assassinated. All elections ever since have been witnessing the gradual decline of national issues and the process was complete in 2004 which saw the national theme of India Shining fall flat. Sonia Gandhi’s Congress much to its surprise got a shot at power purely on account of local incumbency cycles like in Andhra Pradesh and local coalition arithmetic like in Tamil Nadu working in its favor.

The Congress has not yet fathomed the message from 2004 and this is evident in how it lost state after state in every assembly election ever since barely managing to cling on to power in highly fragmented states like Assam and Goa. In fact its electoral track record since 2004 has been so disastrous it leads one to question the wisdom of the Congress relying on Brand Sonia and now brand Rahul.

So why is the Congress continuing to play the Gandhi card ?

Foremost it helps to keep the party united. But more than that the Congress believes it can rewind back to the 1980s and run a national campaign with a young Gandhi face. With friendly pollsters like Yogendra Yadav who can be trusted to reliably run opinion polls contrasting a Young Gandhi with an ageing Advani or a controversial Modi the Congress believes it can spin its way back into power.

While the India Shining lesson still holds and there is little chance of the Congress spinning away a National election, the BJP must not under-estimate the Congress Spin Machine.

To appreciate how formidable the Congress Spin Machine in the media is consider this:

The Congress did not win the 2004 election but the media has successfuly propogated the myth Sonia steered the party to victory

Sonia Gandhi pulled a fast one on the country by abdicating responsibility and thrusting Manmohan Singh but the media has succesfully propogated the myth of Sacrifice

From the Office of Profit Issue to the Rama Setu the blame was always on the Government with the Congress shying away from taking responsibility. The media successfully propogates the myth that Sonia Gandhi’s intervention saves the day shielding her from any blame.

The Congress has done disastrouly in election after election since 2004 but the media has successfully propogated brand Sonia in opinion poll after opinion poll

It is this formidable media spin machine that the BJP must confront as Rahul Gandhi is elevated. Expect this spin machine to latch on to every word he says and magnify by factor of hundred in the national headlines. The spin will be relentless on how the lotus is wilting, the stem is ageing (see Pankaj Vohra in the HT) in sharpt contrast to Rahul Gandhi, his lack of accomplishment and intellect notwithstanding.

The BJP while ignoring the immediate news of his elevation must be prepared. While victory in the next elections will likely be determined by a state by state local win strategy based on the coalition arithmetic and cycles of local incumbency, the BJP must counter the Rahul Gandhi spin tsunami pre-emptively to not give the Congress an outside chance of spinning its way to a National Election.

 The Sonia Gandhi spin machine always had the advantage of taking the moral high ground and painting her as the victim. Rahul Gandhi will not have that advantage and will end up doing what he did during the UP campaign, invoke the past to gain sympathy and that is where he will be most vulnerable.

Offstumped will be keeping a close watch on the Congress spin machine challenging it every step of the way.


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