Since his elevation to the post of Congress president in December 2017, Rahul Gandhi is said to be putting in efforts for an image makeover, thereby shedding the perception of the “big boss” among party workers. The result is that he is “more accessible” now than he used to be, party sources claim.

In his four-year stint as the party vice-president, Rahul Gandhi was often criticised by sections in the party for being an “unapproachable leader”.  However, since his elevation to the post of party president, that is changing, if sources ahve to believed. A party source in the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) said, “With more responsibility on his shoulders, Rahul Gandhi is spending more time consulting  others on party affairs. He has become more approachable than he used to be. If workers try to get in touch with him, they will definitely get some response now.”

Chhattisgarh, which will be going for elections later this year, will be one of the tests that Rahul Gandhi will have to pass before 2019. 

Sailesh Nitin Trivedi, Chhattisgarh Congress leader, said, “We had undertaken sector in-charge trainings in August-September last year when Rahul Gandhi was here. He had participated in the process then and now we have also started booth sector in-charge trainings, about which Rahul Gandhi is being duly notified. There is no accessibility issue with him. P.L. Punia has been appointed as the AICC state in-charge of Chhattisgarh, and is also always readily available.”

After taking charge as the Congress president, Rahul Gandhi had conducted a meeting with 20 state representatives where he had taken up individual conversations with leaders. The move was portrayed as the beginning of a shift from his usual reluctance to interact with party workers. 

Trivedi said, “When Rahul Gandhi visited Chhattisgarh, he was the vice-president and in-charge of the frontal organisations only. Now, as the president, he is more accessible. We are making a lot of plans. In February-March, we are expecting some rallies, but nothing is finalised yet.”

The criticism against Rahul Gandhi has been so strong that Congress leaders could not help but complain in muted tones at Gandhi’s constant pre-occupation with his mobile phones during party meetings as well as public appearances. 

From his unannounced vacations abroad to unresponsiveness towards emails, several ex-Congress members who left the party after 2014, openly expressed their frustration at Rahul Gandhi not being available when a final call was supposed to be taken over urgent matters. 

Om Prakash Mishra, state in-charge, Bengal Congress, said, “In Gujarat, Rahul Gandhi involved himself at every level of leadership. Now in Karnataka too, he has made himself available for all consultations with party functionaries. Last week, Rahul Gandhi was in Shillong. He not only addressed public gatherings, but also made it a point to meet state functionaries in Meghalaya. So his access has increased. He is more involved.”

“As Congress president, Rahul Gandhi’s engagement has extended. The contours of such extension are in the making. So far, when there has been a problem, opinions got piled up and Rahul Gandhi was seen as a part of the problem. But people can see how Congress has been treated unfairly and how media has been unfair to Congress; so people can see that Rahul Gandhi and Congress both were right,” claimed Mishra

Party sources aware of the development said that a lot of Rahul Gandhi’s image makeover, especially in social media, that has been witnessed in the last 3-4 months has happened after the template suggested by Cambridge Analytica, a London-headquartered “data mining and analysis” company, which played a crucial part in the election campaign of US President Donald Trump.

“It (Cambridge Analytica) has shared a lot of suggestions that cannot be shared with the media. However, the results of that are for everyone to see. The ‘Pappu’ analogy has gone, he is tweeting the ‘right things’ that are laced with sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek remarks. His tweets are getting a lot of traction and press and his tweets are being appreciated by the common man and young voters. The problem with Rahul was that he had built a wall around him, which he very rarely used to lower for anyone, and least for the general public and state leaders, but now that is not the case. He is engaging more frequently with the party leaders and giving appointments to state leaders more easily. All this has made a positive impact on the way Rahul is now being perceived,” a senior party source claimed. Rahul Gandhi has instructed his social media team, headed by Divya Spandana, to be more interactive and “funny” rather than just sticking to a bland form of tweeting that is done by some political leaders and Chief Ministers. In January, he tweeted at an average of more than one tweet a day and it contained humorous “attacks” on the BJP like: “If BJP had a film franchise it would be called Lie Hard #BJPLieHard #BJPLies #HowManyBJPLies”. He also replied to a Twitter user, Dipali, who said that her 107-year-old grandmother wanted to meet Rahul because he was “handsome”. Many of Rahul’s tweets are being composed in Hindi so that they can reach the maximum number of people. According to party leaders, Rahul Gandhi is working on the principle that he has to present himself as a leader of the common man and not a face of the dynasty if he has to take on Narendra Modi in 2019. Nonetheless, Rahul Gandhi’s availability is not helping some states appoint their new chiefs.  Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Odisha are still awaiting the appointment of new party heads, but due to infighting and alleged procrastination from the high command, the decisions are pending, thus affecting day-to-day functioning of the Pradesh committees. 

In Madhya Pradesh, there has been no clarity regarding the role that will be given to Jyotriaditya Scindia and Kamal Nath, due to which party workers are in a confused state.

With inputs from Abhinandan Mishra

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