Can Rahul Gandhi’s image makeover reshape Congress’ future in India?

The new image of Rahul Gandhi that emerged was that of a bourgeois leftist activist who aspires to power to implement drastic changes for the benefit of the Indian proletariat.

With an eye on the 2014 General Elections, Congress scion Rahul Gandhi was entrusted with the leadership of the grand old party as its Vice-President, thus making him the presumptive prime ministerial candidate.

However, what followed were three consecutive defeats in the 2014, 2019 and 2024 general elections, and Rahul Gandhi was derisively labelled as ‘Pappu’ (a failure or somewhat incompetent). This moniker was imposed by his opponents, especially from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to present him as a non-serious political candidate.

Political pundits who follow Congress’ social media chairperson Supriya Shrinate widely agree that Rahul Gandhi has shed his earlier image of being a reluctant politician and has now trying to reinvent himself as the saviour of Indian constitution.

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Supriya Shrinate, a journalist with over 17 years of experience in the Indian print and electronic media, has been tweeting various facets of Rahul Gandhi’s image makeover for the last couple of years, particularly during the much-hyped Bharat Jodo Yatra (Unite India Rally).

Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra triggered hundreds of social media posts presenting him in branded t-shirts, delivering tips to youth on love, logistics, and leadership. This intimate image of Rahul Gandhi as someone full of love and empathy challenges the strongman image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In fact, Supriya Shrinate has said in a tweet that “There are multiple reasons why I am so proud to call Rahul Gandhi my leader… He’s a staunch feminist.”

Through this significant political program undertaken since losing power to the BJP in 2014, Congress successfully projected Rahul Gandhi as someone who is fearless and now interested in purposeful politics that transcends mere electoralism and communalism.

This grand rally allowed the 53-year-old Rahul Gandhi to embark on his own Bharat Ek Khoj program—a nod to the popular historical drama based on the book The Discovery of India (1946) by his great-grandfather and India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Congress’ aim was simple: Rahul Gandhi should discover the real India and also give India another chance to rediscover Rahul Gandhi beyond the ‘Pappu’ image.

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Over the course of the rally and election, Rahul Gandhi emerged with his “coming-of-age” look—unkempt hair and an overgrown salt-and-pepper beard—reminiscent of the Communist guru Karl Marx. The new image of Rahul Gandhi that emerged was that of a bourgeois leftist activist who aspires to power to implement drastic changes for the benefit of the Indian proletariat.

Image: 2024 India election results (Source: Reuters)

No doubt, Rahul Gandhi has withstood continuous mocking and criticism from his opponents who are active in politics and media. From the 2024 General Election results, although not entirely in favour of Rahul Gandhi, Congress’ effective use of social media shows that his image has changed somewhat for the better. However, it remains unclear to both his supporters and opponents what this transformed image and its universal appeal mean for the future of Rahul Gandhi, Congress party and INDI Alliance.

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