Rahul Gandhi: Legacy Lite

Rahul Gandhi: Legacy Lite

Why the noticeable image evolution of the Congress party president is no longer about his dimples or his bomber jackets

Among the multiple arts he must possess, a politician must be an author who rescripts even as he writes as well as a consummate theatre actor. The former can be entirely managed by a ghost. What a politician says, promises, pledges, his choices of eulogies, the decibel of his rebuttals can be entirely scripted behind the voter’s back. The second art though, of performing live in the theatre of politics cannot be covertly managed. No matter how smart the strategist, a politician needs his own personality, temperament and course corrective instincts to carry off the role.

What we currently witness in Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party president and prime ministerial aspirant, the heir apparent of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty is an engaging fusion of both. The last few months have seen an evolved Rahul Gandhi take centrestage. Either, there is an all-new image director at work recasting his image. Or, a chastened old hand has been trained to tweak it anew. Visibly, there is measured change. Gandhi’s speeches, the hooks of argument in his speeches to his political opponents and peers, his tweets and retorts come from a place of perspective, with the internal and external drafts compatibly juxtaposed.



Indian National Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi arrives at a press conference at the All India Congress Committee offices in New Delhi on December 14, 2018.

The Gandhi Overhaul

Gandhi, the hero and face of what the Congress must say and mean in 2019 is suddenly seen pulling it off with more relatable emphasis. The sometimes blank looking and sometimes opaque faced “ pappu” or who PM Narendra Modi would sarcastically call the “ shahzada” no longer conforms to these labels. Pappu has grown up and his salt and pepper stubble isn’t the only sign. Whereas Shahzada, which essentially means a prince with an unlimited self-indulgence plan gifted by life doesn’t apply either to Gandhi anymore. He has thrown aside almost all traces of indulgent petulance or “I-am-learning-the-ropes, so-will-you-just-stand-by” impatience. A measured response-ability in articulation has moved in instead.

Last week, we got a query from a leading news publication exploring a piece on the “gilets” Rahul Gandhi wears to the Parliament these days and whether they could be seen as political dressing trend. No sirs, no, no. The bomber jackets Gandhi chooses for his public appearances in winters (the year before there was much speculation about a brown Burberry jacket he wore), and recently on election rallies, or while thumping his “give me 20 minutes” challenge to Prime Minister Modi for a one-on-one debate on the Rafale row—are half-sleeved quilted waistcoats. They didn’t just jump out of menswear trend look books. They have been around.

If you must Instagram a “trend” here, it is about Gandhi’s rejection of the Nehru-Modi bandhgala or waistcoat. He clearly wants a distance from it. Gandhi has in fact been mixing “then” and “now” into his wardrobe. His father Rajiv Gandhi’s penchant for pristine white kurta-pyjamas is paired with non-Indian (or not necessarily made in India), non-textile, non-Khadi waistcoats.

Why aren’t we talking about that?



Rahul Gandhi waves people at a public meeting for the campaign of the 2018 Telangana state Assembly elections at Medchal constituency.

A senior news photographer from a leading English daily who has been following Rahul Gandhi for years says, “There is a new Rahul Gandhi—something has changed, especially in the last three months ,,” More interested in his clothes and how he presents himself you ask. “Oh yes, certainly,” is the answer.

“What he says and how he says it has certainly changed. Not just at rallies or in the Parliament but also on Twitter. He is more proactive than reactive; he takes time to react, the aggression is gone,” says image guru Dilip Cherian agreeing with the subtle and not-so-subtle changes in Rahul Gandhi’s politics of appearance. This change has crept in after he vanished for a while last year and it became more apparent after each of his trips abroad,” adds Cherian.

Others agree. “There is a latent ease, a relaxing as if, a sync with the role laid out for him that contributes to what is being seen as new found political charm,” says another political journalist, who covers the Bharatiya Janata Party and has been curiously “watching” Gandhi from the other side. He doesn’t want to be named.



Priyanka Gandhi arrives at a rally held to support party candidates during the Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections at Rae Bareli on February 17, 2017.

The New Indira to the Rescue?

A lot of us spectators continue to debate how Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s official entry to politics as the All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh hinges on her similarities with her formidable grandmother. How her compassion and shrewdness, her height and manner, her hair and her saris bring back strong flashes of her grandmother’s steel magnolia impact on Indian politics. And why that “image” itself may aide her brother Rahul in scoring more plus points in the forthcoming general elections.

But that is a story that has been in the retelling for a couple of decades. The au courant political “trend” story if you will, is Rahul Gandhi: Legacy Lite. White kurta pyjama, salt and pepper stubble, no Nehru bandhgala, no more thin-rimmed spectacles. Now, when he rolls back the sleeves of those white kurtas, you know he will play instead of ponder.

“Darting dimples” versus “ chhapan inch ki chhati” (PM Modi’s emphasis on his chest size—56 inches) may not be such a predictable political drama after all. Streaming Now. In India and Bharat.

In the banner: Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi at various political events in Nov-Dec 2018 and February 2019.