Rahul Gandhi has questioned the perception that Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys enormous popularity and contended that propaganda works only when there is a disconnect between politicians and the people.
Responding to a question about Modi retaining his high popularity rating, Rahul said at the National Press Club in Washington: “I don’t believe everything I hear. I walked across India, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and talked directly to millions of people. They didn’t seem happy; there is angst in the people.”
He referred to the Karnataka election results and asked the questioner to wait for the outcome of the Assembly elections in some states later this year.
Rahul spoke about the capture of institutions, particularly the media, in the context of a sustained narrative favouring Modi despite economic failures and social discord.
Asked how the Congress would confront the BJP’s propaganda and messaging, he appeared to rely on direct conversation with the masses, suggesting that the media’s role as the main intermediary reduce considerably when politicians reach out to the people.
The former Congress president said: “We have been struggling with this for some time. We came across a very simple idea – walking across the country, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. It was shocking to see how effective that idea was. I was blown away. Because, when we directly went to the people… no amount of force worked. The BJP was trying everything they could to not allow the Bharat Jodo Yatra to be successful.”
Rahul explained: “I think all this propaganda doesn’t work if you go to the people. If you are far from the people, it is easy. Once you start going close to the people, start having a conversation, start physically meeting people, it (propaganda) doesn’t work. It was a revelation to me. It sort of made me understand what Mahatma Gandhi was doing. Distance between people and the political class — that’s where the propaganda comes into play. If you bridge that gap, it (distortion) is very difficult.”
Hinting that the Congress and other Opposition parties needed to expand their public outreach instead of expecting fair play from the media, he said: “We got the message across in an explosive way.... It is now obvious to every single person that India needs to stand united....”
Arguing that there was a far stronger and bigger support for the Congress's inclusive vision that gives space to all castes and communities than the BJP’s divisive and polarising idea, Rahul said: “India needs to be in harmony. India needs to express itself to truly succeed. India needs an expansive imagination, needs to dream big. India can’t dream big if people who are leading you are angry, violent and engrossed with hatred. I don’t know of one case where somebody who is angry and filled with hatred has expansive imagination.”
He said serious negotiations were going on to unite the Opposition and an effective formula could be worked out in a spirit of give and take to defeat the BJP. “The Congress will do very well in the 2024 elections, it will surprise people.”
He also claimed that there was an infrastructure in place in India to protect the secular and democratic space although it had been weakened by the RSS-BJP.
Asked what kept him going in politics despite the security risks and the history of assassinations in his family, Rahul said: “I defend an idea. I love the people of my country, in particular the people who are struggling. I empathise with their struggle. I have no choice. That creates an emotional response in me. I have grown up with a narrative about what our country should be, what it should look like. That’s what drives me. I am not concerned about threats. Everybody has to die. You don’t back down because of that.”