CHENNAI: The relationship between politicians and public is often a seasonal affair. The acquaintance remains largely virtual through mass media until it’s election time. Then, clad in crisp white Khadi, they descend among the masses to lecture, debate, and hard-sell, even while maintaining safe distance. This image is as old as the Indian democracy.
With the Tamil Nadu elections, Congress scion Rahul Gandhi is trying to change that image about him and his party. His attempts to connect with people of various walks of life have largely been successful from an image-building point of view, say experts. And, the Gandhi scion has sustained that momentum, without overdoing it over the last several months.
Around Pongal, he came down to Madurai to watch Jallikattu. He sat down in a pandhi and shared a meal with a bunch of youngsters during that visit. During the bull-taming event, when a contestant tried to jump up the dais to save himself from the charging bovine, security personnel were alarmed.
They demanded that he step down, but Rahul intervened and let him cling on. The gesture soon became viral on social media. Subsequently came the village cooking video, in which he participated. The clip has garnered a whopping 18 million views on YouTube, while becoming the talk of the surrounding villages for a long time. A few days back, he even accepted a push-up challenge from a Kanniyakumari school student, and danced with them later.
The Congress leader’s dress code, his willingness to jump-off convoys to have tea at local stalls, and confidence in facing crowds, has inspired his party’s State unit. The idea, many Congress workers say, is for public to feel Rahul isn’t an outsider, but one among them. “He seems to have a special place in his heart for the Southern States,” says one leader.
“He really enjoys meeting people here,” says GK Muraleedharan, a senior functionary of TN Congress. “We have seen people approaching him easily and he, too, hears them out patiently before offering a remedy. He is indeed charismatic,” adds Murali. It’s not clear if these strategies will win votes, but Rahul certainly seems to have won many hearts.