5 PR Blunders That Cost Rahul Gandhi the UP Election

Does Rahul need to reconsider his communication strategy?

This morning, every newspaper’s front page wore the same expression – a dejected Rahul Gandhi. Managing to grab just 6 more seats from its previous total, the recently concluded elections were certainly a slap in the face for India’s oldest and grandest political party. And while it was a magnanimous gesture on the Gandhi scion’s part to accept moral responsibility for his party’s defeat, many fingers are now being pointed in order to explain or understand the reasons for the political carnage of the Congress in the UP elections of 2012.

Taking a hand of things, we point five more fingers. Listed below are the 5 major communication blunders the Congress committed while reaching out to potential voters.

1.       A Dearth of Fresh Messaging

Product offerings have to be kept fresh with variety and added advantages through the product’s life cycle. In Indian politics, the offerings have always been to provide basic necessities. Rahul’s promises of sadak, bijlee aur pani with a twist of employment (NREGA) and roti (Food security bill) just weren’t fresh enough for the UP voter’s palate. Contrarily, Akhilesh Yadav promised notebooks (far away from paper notebooks, he meant tablet computers) to every student. The idea was new, exciting and guaranteed to attract voters.

2.       Non-Synergetic Communication:

For the last 3 years, Rahul has been taking up issues in Uttar Pradesh. These issues are diverse; with no connect with each other. Thus, there was no clear image/perception created for him. The tools of communication were just as diverse as the issues themselves –

  1. Photo-opp of Rahul working with daily wage workers
  2. Pad-yatra for farmers, to protest land acquisition norms
  3. Rallies for seeking votes

With no synergy or connect with one issue and the other, the vision of Rahul’s UP was distorted, creating doubt in the minds of UP voters.

3.       Noodle Bowl of Messages:

Too many cooks spoil the broth and too many leaders confuse the voter. A storm erupted by senior leaders such as Salman Khurshid and Beni Prasad Verma ate up the Congress airtime on television and Rahul’s vision’s details in print media. Attention was diverted to non-issue issues and not the Congress’ plans for UP. Rahul’s ‘half a potato used to make a packet of chips’ example should have been the talking point for the elections, however the messaging was lost in Verma’s can’t and EC’s rant.

Priyanka lends a shoulder to Rahul

4.       Understanding the Audience:

“It is not the buyer’s job to know what he wants; I have to present to him what he needs” – Steve Jobs.

Understanding the target audience is the foremost rule of leadership. People in UP awaited a visionary to deliver development; while Rahul showcased a vision of social justice. Akhilesh on the other hand sold the idea of economic growth and UP as India’s talent powerhouse – through educational reforms and infrastructure growth. Maya on the other hand stuck with the BSP’s “Tilak, Taraju aur Talwar” campaign, which got her a mere 16% share of votes.

5.       Lack of Connect:

A leader is a person, selected from the people, by the people and for the people. How can one be elated to a leader’s position without being physically connected to the public? Rahul Gandhi’s perimeter of tall and strong barricades and a perimeter of Special Protection Guards (SPG) ensures no one gets within a 5 meter distance of his “personal space”.  Akhilesh on the other hand was adored, touched and hugged by the people during his yatra. His personal unguarded presence was far more appealing to the locals of UP, than Rahul’s charisma, visible from only behind a podium on national television.


With the 2014 general election just 24 months away and political analysts predicting early elections, it would be interesting to witness the developments in the Congress’ PR machinery. Only time shall tell if, Rahul can prove himself a phoenix rising from his grandmother’s ashes to emerge with a “Belchi” moment.


Written by Rishi Vaidya for Image Management

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