New Delhi: The family is speaking! And how.
The son speaks to groups of select journalists on the big challenges before the party and the country; the daughter gives out interviews to a television channel and weekly magazine of her choice; and the mother has been the voice of the party, as she has traditionally been during election time —although even she held a rare press conference in Delhi, sharply attacking her political rivals.
The Gandhis have taken over the front pages of newspapers and lead slots of prime time news bulletins in the past few weeks, and while some analysts see their sudden willingness to speak to the media as a sign of their growing confidence, others put it down to the party’s smart endgame in campaigning to the parliamentary election that ends next week.
The subtext in all these interactions has been the same: that Manmohan Singh is the best man for the prime minister’s job; that democracy within the party is as important as democracy without; and that the Congress is the best party to govern the country.
Smart endgame? The Gandhis have taken over the front pages of newspapers and magazines in what some see as a clever election strategy.
A Congressman said the media blitz was because the family members were “news makers”, but an analyst said the Gandhis were aware that they could get votes for the party by speaking out.
“They are news makers, and (the) media has always been after them. Besides, they are from the premier (political) family, in which a mother and the son refused to take over as the prime minister despite the post being offered to them. So, every word they utter carries weight,” said L. Rajagopal, a Congress representative in the outgoing Lok Sabha. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, professor at the School of International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said it was quite natural for the “charismatic” Gandhi family to try and get closer to the media because “the media influences voters”.
Sure enough, the Gandhis’ interactions in recent days have been a mix of the political and the personal.
Thus, during an interaction with senior journalists, Rahul Gandhi said: “From my side, I know—and I do know my mother’s views on this—that he (Singh) is the best prime ministerial candidate.”
And the latest issue of news weekly Outlook has Priyanka Vadra saying of her husband Robert Vadra: “I first met him when I was 13. He never treated me different... Robert treated me just like anybody else when I first met him. I liked that.”
The family’s approach this time is markedly different from that in 2004 when Sonia Gandhi was largely the face of the family and the party.
This year, Sonia Gandhi and Singh addressed a press conference on 24 March on the occasion of the release of the party’s manifesto; Rahul Gandhi has continually interacted with the media during his campaign across states, and met with senior journalists at his Delhi residence over the weekend; and Priyanka Vadra has been the face of her brother and her mother in their constituencies. And apart from the interview to Outlook, she also spoke to television channel NDTV.
Media analyst and researcher N. Bhaskar Rao termed the family’s and the party’s strategy “right and correct”.
“Today’s media is divided and decentralized. Unless you have different voices from various places, you will not be heard. It would seem that the Congress has learnt from its past. Sonia Gandhi was its lone voice in 2004,” said Rao, who is chairperson of the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies.
However, both Rao and G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, a psephologist who also serves as media adviser to Madhya Pradesh’s Bharatiya Janata Party chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, said the family could also be trying to compensate for Prime Minister Singh’s lack of a public persona.
“Since they have announced Manmohan Singh as the Congress’ prime ministerial candidate, the family has to compensate for his absence in the media. He does not communicate much, and they have to offset his media presence,” said Narasimha Rao.
And some analysts also see Priyanka Vadra’s increased interactions with the media as a message from the Congress that there is no dearth of dynamic young leaders within the party—that the party does have more aces in the pack.
Narasimha Rao also said Rahul Gandhi’s increased interactions with the media could be part of the party’s efforts to prepare him for the “big post of future prime minister”. Today, the younger Gandhi is scheduled to address a press conference in the Capital.